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The Ramayana Revisited



The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Revisited

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The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Revisited edited by mandakranta bose

1 2004

1 Oxford New York Auckland Bangkok Buenos Aires Cape Town Chennai Dar es Salaam Delhi Hong Kong Istanbul Karachi Kolkata Kuala Lumpur Madrid Melbourne Mexico City Mumbai Nairobi Sa˜o Paulo Shanghai Taipei Tokyo Toronto

Copyright 䉷 2004 by Oxford University Press, Inc. Published by Oxford University Press, Inc. 198 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10016 Oxford is a registered trademark of Oxford University Press All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of Oxford University Press. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a revisited / edited by Mandakranta Bose. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-19-516832-1; 0-19-516833-X (pbk.) 1. Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a I. Bose, Mandakranta, 1938– BL1139.26.R359 2004 294.5'922046—dc22 2003058112

9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper

To my sisters Mriducchanda and Madhusraba

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Like other pervasive presences one grows up with, until recently the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a was for me a part of life I took for granted with no expenditure of conscious effort. The passage of years, the repositioning of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in present-day public life, and conversations with friends, colleagues, and students have increasingly drawn me to a more critical engagement with what I see as a foundational text of South and Southeast Asian societies. My studies through the past five years have led me to organize several scholarly gatherings, out of which a modest volume of essays by diverse hands has already appeared in print and the present, fuller collection conceived. In bringing these essays together, my aim was to offer the reader some of the most informed and imaginative work currently under way in major areas of Ra¯ma¯yanfi a studies, including its design, ideology, and performance. The crop of Ra¯ma¯yanfi a scholarship in the past two decades has been singularly rich, not only in expanding and developing the fields of research but in questioning received wisdom and discovering fresh instruments of inquiry. In like manner, the present volume attempts to press ahead with revaluations and rediscoveries that, I believe, will animate what I suspect will be a continuing debate on the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a for a long time to come. The two great epics of India, the Maha¯bha¯rata and the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, have the distinction of never having turned into dead if revered classics, and remain embedded in the living cultures of many Asian peoples, including those in the various Asian diasporas. The essays presented here recognize this contemporaneity of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a and engage with it on the many levels of its existence. Among an editor’s many tasks the pleasantest is the acknowledgment of debts, both personal and professional. I have been par-



ticularly fortunate in the varied and consistent help I have received from institutions, colleagues, friends, and family, and I take this opportunity to thank them all. I have been fortunate to have received support from many corners, including my colleagues and friends. I would like to acknowledge them all. My first debt of gratitude is to the University of British Columbia for providing research grants that enabled me to make research trips, organize conferences, and publish conference proceedings. My thanks are due in particular to the Peter Wall Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of British Columbia for its generous funding, and to its director, Dr. Ken McCrimmon, who believed in me, helped me finance and organize two international Ra¯ma¯yanfi a conferences, and gave me invaluable practical advice. Both the past and present directors of the Institute of Asian Research, Dr. Terrence McGee and Dr. Pitman Potter, have helped me beyond the call of mere institutional duty, providing resources for an entire Ra¯ma¯yanfi a conference and an exhibition, “The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in View”; without their support I could not have generated the interest in the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a at this university that it enjoys today. I must also acknowledge the unfailing support of Dr. Frieda Granot, Dean of Graduate Studies, in all my research ventures. The Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia helped me to organize performances of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a on several occasions, and I am grateful to the Museum’s director and staff. I would also like to acknowledge with much pleasure a very substantial research grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada that has allowed me to enlarge the scope of my work on the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. I record with equal gratitude and much personal warmth the support I have received and continue to enjoy from my students, Tanya Boughtflower, Nandita Jaishankar, Nicki Magnolo, Amandeep Mann, and Daniel Winks. Photographs of temple sculptures were provided by Michael Dowad, for which I am grateful to him. Other photographs that accompany the articles have been mostly provided by the authors, and some are from my personal collection, including reproductions of painted scrolls that I have acquired through the years from village painters of West Bengal. I take this opportunity to thank these often obscure but always vigorous artists. My husband, Tirthankar Bose, has provided constant help by going through every stage of the book with me meticulously. Without his help this book would not have seen the light. I am grateful to Margaret Case and Rebecca Johns-Danes for their meticulous copyediting. Finally, I would like to thank Cynthia Read and Theodore Calderara of Oxford University Press for taking on the task of steering this book through the complex publication process with patience and understanding.

Note on Transliteration

Non-English words are italicized and marked with diacritics, other than terms that appear in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary or have passed into common usage in the critical literature of South and Southeast Asia, such as “guru,” “pandit,” and “kathakali.” Proper names are transliterated according to usage in their language of origin. Exceptions, if any, are stated in notes to individual chapters.

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Contributors, xiii Introduction, 3 1. Resisting Ra¯ma: Dharmic Debates on Gender and Hierarchy and the Work of the Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, 19 Robert P. Goldman 2. Gendered Narratives: Gender, Space, and Narrative Structures in Va¯lmı¯ki’s Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a, 47 Sally J. Sutherland Goldman 3. Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Textual Traditions in Eastern India, 87 William L. Smith 4. Reinventing the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in Twentieth-Century Bengali Literature, 107 Mandakranta Bose 5. Why Can’t a Shudra Perform Asceticism? S´ambu¯ka in Three Modern South Indian Plays, 125 Paula Richman 6. Hanuma¯n’s Adventures Underground: The Narrative Logic of a Ra¯ma¯yanfi a “Interpolation,” 149 Philip Lutgendorf



7. “Only You”: The Wedding of Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯, Past and Present, 165 Heidi Pauwels 8. When Does Sı¯ta¯ Cease to Be Sı¯ta¯? Notes toward a Cultural Grammar of Indian Narratives, 219 Velcheru Narayana Rao 9. Representing the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a on the Ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam Stage, 243 Bruce M. Sullivan 10. The “Radio-Active” Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a: Home and Abroad, 259 Vidyut Aklujkar 11. Mysticism and Islam in Javanese Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Tales, 275 Laurie J. Sears 12. Chasing Sı¯ta¯ on a Global/Local Interface: Where Cartographies Collide, Silent Vessels “Tell in Full,” 293 Kaja M. McGowan 13. The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in the Arts of Thailand and Cambodia, 323 Julie B. Mehta 14. The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Theme in the Visual Arts of South and Southeast Asia, 335 Kapila Vatsyayan Appendix 1

The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in Asia, 355

Appendix 2

Variant Names of Main Characters, 359

Index, 361


Vidyut Aklujkar has taught Hindi, Indian literature, and Indian mythology at the University of British Columbia, and Sanskrit at Harvard. In addition to several research publications in international journals and anthologies, she has a monograph on the philosophy of language, The Primacy of Linguistic Units, Indian Philosophical Quarterly Publication No. 12 from the University of Poona (1987). She has six books to her credit in Marathi, including two edited volumes, one on Konkani idioms and the other, entitled Videshini, an anthology of prizewinning short stories written by authors in the Marathi diaspora. For three years she has written a series of articles on language for the Marathi weekly Saaptaahik Sakaal, published from Pune, India. She has been an editor and now serves as an editorial counselor on the Marathi quarterly Ekata, published from Toronto. She has also served for many years as a final judge on the prestigious literary awards committee for the annual awards given by Maharashtra Foundation in the United States. Mandakranta Bose is Director of the Centre for India and South Asia Research at the University of British Columbia, where she teaches Eastern religions and women’s studies. A fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of London, she studied at the universities of Calcutta, British Columbia, and Oxford, earning a D.Phil. from the last. Among her recent books are: Speaking of Dance: The Indian Critique (Delhi: D. K. Printworld, 2001); The Dance Vocabulary of Classical India (Delhi: Indian Books Centre, 1995); Movement and Mimesis: The Idea of Dance in the Sanskritic Tradition (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991); a critical edition, Nartananirnfi aya by Pundfi arika Vitfifithala (Calcutta: General Printers, 1991); and two edited volumes, Faces of the Feminine in Ancient, Medieval and Modern India



(New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), and A Varied Optic: Contemporary Studies in the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a (Vancouver: Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia, 2000). Robert P. Goldman is Professor of Sanskrit and India Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. His areas of scholarly interest include Sanskrit literature and literary theory, Indian epic studies, and psychoanalytically oriented cultural studies. He has published widely in these areas, authoring several books and dozens of scholarly articles. He is perhaps best known for his work as the director, general editor, and a principal translator of a massive and fully annotated translation of the critical edition of the Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984–). His work has been recognized by several awards and fellowships, including election as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Sally J. Sutherland Goldman, Lecturer in Sanskrit, earned her Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley in 1979. She teaches Sanskrit at all levels as well as Buddhist Sanskrit, Pali, and Prakrit at the University of California at Berkeley. She is the coauthor of the Devava¯nfi ¯ıpraves´ika: An Introduction to Sanskrit Language. She is associate editor of the Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Translation Project, annotator of the first book of the epic, the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a, and coauthor of the fifth book, the Sundaraka¯nfi dfi a (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992– 1996). She is currently working on the sixth and seventh books of the epic. She is the editor of Bridging Worlds: Studies on Women in South Asia (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), a collection of articles on the roles of women in South Asia, and the coeditor of a new volume, Themes in Indian History: The Sanskrit Epics (New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming). Her areas of interest are women’s studies, epic and classical Sanskrit literature, vya¯karanfi a or Sanskrit grammar, and Veda. She has authored a number of articles focusing on these areas. Philip Lutgendorf earned his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago and is associate professor of Hindi and Modern Indian Studies at the University of Iowa. His research includes north Indian oral performance traditions based on Tulsı¯da¯s’s Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, on which he has published a major study, The Life of a Text: Performing the Ra¯mcaritma¯nas of Tulsı¯da¯s (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991) and a number of articles. He has coauthored the Ra¯mcaritma¯nas Word Index (Delhi: Manohar, 1997) with Winand Callewaert. More recently, he has made a special study of the cult of Hanuma¯n, with several articles published and in press, including the forthcoming “Evolving a Monkey: Hanuma¯n, Poster Art and Postcolonial Anxiety” in Contributions to Indian Sociology. One of his interests is Indian cinema, on which he runs a Web site: Kaja M. McGowan is Assistant Professor of Art History and Asian Studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Focusing her research on the reciprocal relationships between neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, she examines the flow of ideas, artistic traditions, and artifacts that link their cultures. She



arrived at her current research interests through a study of classical Balinese dance and has come to focus on gender issues as they are revealed in the complex visual symbologies that evolve between the landscape and the human body. Her articles, “Balancing on Bamboo: Women in Balinese Art,” in Asian Art and Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), and “Maritime Travelers and Tillers of the Soil: Reading the Landscape(s) of Batur,” in Studies in Southeast Asian Art: Essays in Honor of Stanley J. O’Connor, edited by Nora A. Taylor (Ithaca: Cornell Southeast Asia Program Publication, Cornell University, 2000), explore these issues. Julie B. Mehta is the author of Dance of Life: The Mythology, History and Politics of Cambodian Culture (Singapore: Graham Brash, 2001) and coauthor, with her husband Harish C. Mehta, of the best-selling biography Hun Sen, Strongman of Cambodia (Singapore: Graham Brash, 1999). A gold medalist from Loreto College, Calcutta, she holds degrees in English literature, and specializes in Indian, Thai, and Cambodian culture, art, and religion. Julie Mehta has lived in Southeast Asia for twenty years, has worked as a correspondent in Singapore, Canberra, Phnom Penh, and Bangkok, and has been behind major initiatives to promote cross-cultural understanding in Asia. She now lives in Toronto and is working on two new books on Southeast Asia. Heidi Pauwels is Associate Professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Literature at the University of Washington in Seattle, where she teaches both modern and old Hindi language and literature, and courses on Hinduism. She studied in Europe (in Belgium with Winand Callewaert and in Germany with Monika Horstmann), India (at the Vrindaban Research Institute), and the United States (in Seattle with Alan Entwistle), and taught at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London (1994–1997). Her publications include two monographs on sixteenth-century bhakti: Krfisfinfi a’s Round Dance Reconsidered: Hariram Vyas’s Hindi Ras-Pan˜ca¯dhya¯yi (London: Curzon Press, 1996), and In Praise Of Holy Men: Hagiographic Poems by and about Hariram Vyas (Groningen: Egbert Forsten, 2002), and various articles in scholarly journals and conference proceedings, including comparisons of medieval and contemporary film and television retellings of the stories of Krfisfi nfi a and Ra¯ma. Velcheru Narayana Rao is Krishnadevaraya Professor of Languages and Cultures of Asia at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Among his many publications are his recent Hibiscus on the Lake: Twentieth-Century Telugu Poetry from India (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003); Classical Telugu Poetry: An Antholgy, a volume coauthored with David Shulman (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002); The Sound of the Kiss: Or the Story That Must Never Be Told (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002); and A Lover’s Guide to Warrangal: The Kridabhiramamu by Vinukonda Vallabharaya (New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2002). Among his many articles are “A Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Their Own: Women’s Oral Tradition in Telugu,” in Many Ramayanas (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991) and “The Politics of Telugu Ramayanas, Colonialism, Print Culture, and Lit-



erary Movements,” in Questioning Ramayanas (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2000), both edited by Paula Richman. Paula Richman, Irvin E. Houck Professor of South Asian Religions at Oberlin College, specializes in Tamil religious literature. She edited and contributed to Many Ra¯ma¯yanfi as: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991) and Questioning Ra¯ma¯yanfi as: A South Asian Tradition (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2001). Her most recent monograph is Extraordinary Child: Poems from a South Indian Devotional Genre (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1997). She is completing a book on Tamil Ra¯ma¯yanfi as in the midtwentieth century, focusing on writers such as E. V. Ramasami, C. Rajagopalachari, Puthumaippittan, Bharati, and Kumudini. Laurie J. Sears is Professor of History at the University of Washington in Seattle. She is the author of Shadows of Empire: Colonial Discourse and Javanese Tales (1996) and the editor of Fantasizing the Feminine in Indonesia (1996), both published by Duke University Press, Durham. She teaches Southeast Asian histories and literatures, comparative colonialisms, and postcolonial theories. She is currently finishing two new books: an edited volume entitled Area, Knowledge, Discipline: Southeast Asian Studies in the Twenty-first Century, and a monograph entitled Trauma and Literary Representation in Java. William L. Smith teaches in the Department of Indology at the University of Stockholm, Sweden. His chief area of interest is the Eastern Indo-Aryan languages and literatures. His writings include Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Traditions in Eastern India (Stockholm: Department of Indology, University of Stockholm, 1995); Bengali Reference Grammar (Stockholm: Department of Indology, University of Stockholm, 1997); Patterns in North Indian Hagiography (Stockholm: Department of Indology, University of Stockholm, 2000); and a work on S´an˙karadeva (Stockholm: Department of Indology, University of Stockholm, 2001). He has also edited Maithili Studies: Papers Presented at the Stockholm Conference on Maithili Language and Literature (Stockholm: Department of Indology, University of Stockholm, 2003). He is currently involved in research on Maha¯bha¯rata literature in Assamese, Bengali, and Oriya. Bruce M. Sullivan, Professor of Religious Studies at Northern Arizona University, earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1984. His book on the authorship of the Maha¯bha¯rata, entitled Krfisfinfi a Dvaipa¯yana Vya¯sa and the Maha¯bha¯rata: A New Interpretation was published from Leiden by E. J. Brill in 1990, with a second edition under the title Seer of the Fifth Veda (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1999). He has coauthored with N. P. Unni two translations and studies of Kerala’s Sanskrit drama tradition: The Wedding of Arjuna and Subhadra¯ (Delhi: Nag Publishers, 2001), and The Sun God’s Daughter and King Sam ˙ varana (Delhi: Nag Publishers, 1995). He is also the author of the Historical Dictionary of Hinduism (1997), the paperback edition of which is A to Z of Hinduism (Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2001), and articles and chapters on various aspects of Hindu religious traditions.



Kapila Vatsyayan, art historian, literary critic, and institution builder, has made the study of the arts and literatures of India and Southeast Asia her life’s work. Her academic life began as a student of English literature in Delhi and Michigan, but broadened into sustained studies in Sanskrit, while her artistic life began with rigorous training in classical Indian dancing. Her 1968 book, Classical Indian Dance in Literature and the Arts (New Delhi: Sangeet Natak Akademi, 1968), established her as the foremost authority in the performing arts of India, and was followed by pioneering studies in almost every area of South Asian culture, her contributions to which have been recognized by many honors. Among her many books are Dance in Indian Painting (New Delhi: Abhinav, 1982), and The Square and the Circle in the Arts of India ([1983], 2nd ed., New Delhi: Abhinav, 1997). President of India International Centre, Delhi, and the first director of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in Delhi, Dr. Vatsyayan has held visiting professorships in numerous universities around the world.

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The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Revisited

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As an ancient narrative that continues to influence the social, religious, cultural, and political life of modern South and Southeast Asia, the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a hardly needs to be justified as an object of serious study. But its adaptability to multiple genres, art forms, and social contexts does invite investigation, as does the reliance that countless South and Southeast Asians place on it as a guide to everyday conduct. Not a year passes that at least one of my students of South Asian origin does not tell me how she was exhorted by her mother to try to be like Sı¯ta¯. Improbable as this reverence seems to me, and hard to reconcile with the dissipation of cultural heritage resulting from distance in space and time, it is a reality of South Asian life. To make such an impression, what forms does the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a assume as it appears to its countless admirers? In what ways and to what extent do these forms of representation construct the meaning of the epic for its audiences? The diversity of its retellings suggests that the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a holds different meanings for different audiences. If we are to discover what those varying meanings are and how they arise, then we must take stock not only of the literary text but also of non-literary forms, such as, dance dramas, oral narratives, stage plays, songs, films, and the visual and plastic arts. The need to widen our investigative approaches is urgent in view of the pace at which recent Ra¯ma¯yanfi a scholarship is advancing. Even a cursory survey of recent publications shows the degree of sustained attention the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a is commanding today, from rigorously crafted editorial and translation projects to precisely researched interpretive readings that cover the whole range of public life, from politics to entertainment.1 Conferences on the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a are regular events, organized by major academic bodies such as the



Sahitya Akademi of India, and by community organizations such as the International Ramayana Institute of North America. Complementing this scholarly interest, there has been a resurgence of interest in the public domain in the form of stepped-up performances of the traditional Ra¯mlı¯la¯ celebrations of northern India and plays and films derived from the epic.2 A milestone in the dissemination of the epic in modern times is the television serial Ra¯ma¯yanfi a produced in 1987 for India’s state-run broadcaster, Doordarshan, by Ramanand Sagar. This serial entranced vast audiences and brought public life to a halt during its weekly airing, and it continues to draw loyal viewers on video in India and within the huge Indian diaspora.3 Sanjay Khan, a major filmmaker, has announced plans for a blockbuster film with the telling title “Maryyada Purushottam” (“The honor of the lord of men”) based on the epic. A more somber but equally decisive sign of the grip that the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a has on the popular mind is its highly effective use as a political reference point in India from the late 1980s.4 The epic seems well on the way to emerging as an instrument of identity formation, particularly for Hindus within the Indian diaspora, among whom the public chanting of the Tulsı¯da¯si Ra¯ma¯yanfi a has spread substantially over the last twenty years.5 But interest in the Ra¯ma tale is by no means confined to South or Southeast Asian populations and often crops up at unexpected places. For example, the distinctly off-the-track Salt Spring Island, situated off the western shore of Canada, has for many years hosted an annual Ra¯ma¯yanfi a performance entirely for the delectation of the local community. In the summer of 2002, Vancouver saw a multimedia dance drama on the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a that became something of a tourist attraction. That the epic has reached the global mass market is attested still better by the production of a technologically brilliant if determinedly Disneyfied cartoon version by a joint Japanese-Indian group, presented at international film festivals in the late 1980s and now making the rounds in a DVD reincarnation.6 The recharged social appeal of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a has been responsible in large part for the current scholarly focus on its ideological meanings and functions. This interest has led to the recognition, first, that the literary tradition represented by Va¯lmı¯ki’s Ra¯ma¯yanfi a and its many literary descendants, most notably Tulası¯da¯s’s reworking of it in Hindi, Kampan4 ’s Ira¯ma¯vata¯ram in Tamil, and Krfittiva¯sa’s Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in Bengali, has exercised a hegemonic authority in South Asian civil society, generating emulation in narratives and performances. Second, the argument has gained force that this authority is one that is contested by numerous nonhegemonic or counterhegemonic versions.7 Reading the literary versions as inscriptions of elitist, patriarchal, and generally regressive social and political values, recent scholarship has turned to oral, folk, and regional versions and performance forms as populist, subaltern, or feminist retellings of the epic. Not surprisingly, studies grounded in these perceptions rely upon the methods and theoretical frameworks of postcolonial criticism, subaltern history, and gender studies.8 This enlargement of the critical perspective is an increasingly important part of contemporary Ra¯ma¯yanfi a studies. Within the past three decades, scholarship has made a rapid advance in both volume and depth to engage with



retellings of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a that have historically arisen out of regional, racial, caste, and gender sensibilities. Much of present-day Ra¯ma¯yanfi a scholarship aims at uncovering such sensibilities by tracing the resonance between the major versions of the epic and its local retellings, and subjecting them to intense rhetorical, structural, and ideological scrutiny. Studies in the choice of narrative structures and strategies of representation have revealed a dynamic relationship of subscription and resistance to the ethical and political formulas authorized by standard versions. Up to the middle of the twentieth century, Ra¯ma¯yanfi a scholarship was dominated by textual, philological, and philosophical commentary, and by research on its origins, literary parallels, historicity, and transmission.9 With that solid platform established, research since the 1970s has been able to turn toward searching assessments of the cultural and political instrumentality of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. The existence of regional variants of the Ra¯ma tale, including those from beyond the borders of India, is not, of course, a recent discovery, the diversity of Ra¯ma tales having been noted by a number of early scholars.10 Some of the most enthusiastic and keenly observed reports come from the poet Rabindranath Tagore in the letters he wrote home during his visit to Java in 1927.11 But from mid-twentieth century onward, research in Ra¯ma¯yanfi a variants picked up pace, as attested by the proliferation of comparative studies in collections such as The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Tradition in Asia, Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in South East Asia, and Variation in Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in Asia.12 By the late twentieth century, it became customary for scholars of South Asian languages and literatures to view the epic not only as a finished literary masterpiece by Va¯lmı¯ki that had gained a new life at the hands of Tulsı¯da¯s, but also as part of the varied folk cultures of India and Southeast Asia. Local versions came increasingly under critical scrutiny and came to be situated in their particular social ethos and cultural idiom. However, until the 1960s the main approaches to the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a comprised efforts to establish texts, origins, and parallels; to examine philological characteristics, historicity, and moral themes; and occasionally to claim the pervasiveness of Hindu culture. In contrast, the past thirty years or so have seen an accelerating interest in the textual, narrative, and representational diversity of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, which marks it as a hegemonic social text on the one hand and, on the other, as a platform for resistance to that hegemony. We may note in passing, though, that the notion of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a as an oppositional text is not exclusive either to the present time or to folk traditions on the margin. One of the most powerful counter-Ra¯ma¯yanfi as to date is a selfconsciously literate work in the Virgilian epic mode from the mid-ninteenth century in sonorous Bengali blank verse, the Meghana¯davadha ka¯vya (1861) by Michael Madhusudan Datta, who mourns Ra¯vanfi a’s defeat and his son Meghana¯da’s death at the hands of the treacherous “Ra¯ma and his rabble.”13 But the decisive turn of scholarly interest toward counterhegemonic constructions and implications has to be understood as a recent phenomenon. Ra¯ma¯yanfi a scholarship today is systematically attempting to chart the scale of alternative constructions. In doing so it recognizes that the variety and number of such constructions is so vast as to put into question the authority of centrality



traditionally ascribed to such versions as the Va¯lmı¯ki or Tulsı¯da¯si Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, and indeed the validity of electing any version as a master narrative. In regional versions of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, scholars continue to discover how social groups disempowered by caste, race, and gender have capitalized on the narrative lines of the epic to inscribe upon it their own understanding of the world that it celebrates, and sometimes to dispute it.14 As already noted, of equal social potency and immediate relevance to our own times is the scholarly perception of the political agency of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. The complexity of the reception, retelling, and transmission of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a is compounded by its spread across regions beyond the borders of South Asia over the span of more than a millennium. The peoples of Southeast Asia in particular have developed their own powerful traditions of the Ra¯ma tale in their oral and literary narratives, their art and architecture, their music, dance, and drama.15 The uses of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a have not left social and political practice unaffected, either. The legitimation of Thai monarchies by the dynastic adoption of the name Ra¯ma and by centering dynastic power in a capital named Ayutthya is only one of many indications of the epic’s social application. But it is not only by its political uses that the pervasiveness of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in Southeast Asia can be explained. Rather, it is possible that its generic patterns of heroism, justice, and human relations are flexible enough to accommodate and perhaps invite turns in the narrative, choices of episodes, manipulation of character and theme, and modes of representation that are embedded in the particulars of regional histories and thus rendered self-reflexive. A worthwhile critical task, then, is to comprehend the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a at once as a foundational text and a cultural phenomenon of protean identities, and to do so across time and space. The present book originated in the conviction that critical approaches to the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a must look beyond its literary and religious identity to its capacity to serve as the meeting ground of many arts and social practices. Over the past four years, the contributors to this volume have examined this understanding of the epic at a number of scholarly gatherings. Through these exchanges it became apparent that a particularly effective way to capture the complexity of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a would be to investigate the construction of meaning and the strategies of such construction across the artistic genres in which it has appeared before audiences in varying contexts. Precisely because contemporary scholarship is concerned with the use of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in molding public life, asserting particular ideological positions, and contesting received wisdom, it must pay particular attention to the forms in which it appears in the public arena. From oral narration to sculpture to film and street theater, the representation of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a varies widely and demands careful inquiry. With this need in view, the essays in this volume engage with and draw upon texts as well as other forms of transmission, such as oral, musical, and dramatic performances; and paintings, scrolls, murals, and sculptures of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. They are dealt with both descriptively and analytically with regard to themes, treatment, techniques, and impact. Both in South Asia and Southeast Asia, the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a is known to vast audiences as much through the visual



and performing arts as through textual and oral forms. It forms the core narrative of classical dance and drama in several Southeast Asian cultural traditions, including those of Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Malaysia, Laos, and Vietnam, whose ancient, complex, and vibrant performance styles that feature puppetry, masked dances, and dance dramas remain at the center of their cultural life. In many parts of rural India, painted scrolls that depict highlights from the story are presented at village fairs by traveling artists who sing the narrative as they display the painting frame by frame. The full range of Ra¯ma¯yanfi a performances is yet to be mapped, but many have been studied in considerable depth.16 A major temple festival of the Palghat region of Kerala is the tolapa¯vakuthu, a leather-puppet play annually celebrating the life of Ra¯ma over a twenty-one day period.17 Local performances of this kind are popular with common folk as explications and affirmations of religious messages, on the one hand, and entertainment, on the other. In the more formal tradition of classical theater in India, we find at least one form of Ra¯ma¯yanfi a performance that is between seven and eight centuries old. This is the kutfiiya¯fitfitam dance drama of Kerala, with a repertory of three Ra¯ma¯yanfi a plays. Not all performance styles are as sophisticated as these Keralan exemplars, but stories from the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a have been told and sung as part of village culture since the fifteenth century in India,18 while outside India the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a has been the platform of performance arts of vast complexity and popularity. What are these performance forms? Where and how are they produced? These questions have been addressed in Ra¯ma¯yanfi a scholarship for a long time, especially in relation to the arts of Southeast Asia. A more recent emphasis is on understanding how the process and the performance of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, their representational modes, and their contents resonate with public life and public concerns, and perhaps shape social and personal values. This critical interest is one that is strongly represented in the present volume. The geographical areas covered here are South and Southeast Asia, especially India, Indonesia, Thailand, and Cambodia, where the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in its various forms has become a part of the cultural idiom, with important implications for social and political life. Southeast Asian subjects of monarchical rule have drawn inspiration from the ancient legend to idealize Ra¯ma as the model ruler, and by extension have reinforced obedience to the monarch, as in Thailand and Cambodia over the past two centuries. More interesting, elsewhere in Southeast Asia religious boundaries have been crossed to draw upon Ra¯ma¯yanfi a legends for identity formation or moral instruction. In Indonesia the story of Ra¯ma has been fitted into the Islamic tradition, whereas in Thailand and Cambodia the Theravadins have not only identified Ra¯ma and the Buddha as one and the same but have also brought a multitude of Hindu divinities from the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a into the Theravadin tradition. Perhaps the surest proof of the “epic” quality of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a is its adaptability to many artistic forms and many ethical and political positions, many of them equivocal and some mutually contradictory. Regional cultural imperatives have led to widely differing interpretations of the same episodes and characters, in addition to inventing altogether new ones. The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a has



developed into a text of cultural hegemony, affecting a wide array of modes of expression from academic articles to folk art, sculpture, music, and theater, and adapting in the industrial age to film, comic books, and television across the continents. Its versions across many arts and national domains provide rich material to study cultural transfer, especially where significant departures from the narrative of moral schemes of the central tradition are found, as in retellings of episodes from the epic from women’s points of view in recent dance dramas.19 Not surprisingly, textual studies in the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a constitute a substantial scholarly corpus. Comparative studies in the epic’s textual history show how significantly, sometimes widely, its contents have varied. But even in this area much work has to be done, particularly with regional Ra¯ma¯yanfi as, about many of which information is scarce and critical study uneven. For instance, the Bengali Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Krfittiva¯sa remains less examined than its phenomenal popularity and longevity among the Bengali-reading public would lead one to expect,20 and the powerful version by the woman poet Candra¯vatı¯ of sixteenthcentury Bengal has only recently begun to draw sustained critical attention.21 This is not to disparage the studies that do exist in these areas, but to acknowledge the urgency of bringing under scholarly scrutiny the seemingly limitless adaptability of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a to multiple imaginaries, including those dictated by class, race, gender, and geography. Pursuing this interest in the constant remaking of a cultural icon, the present volume expands its understanding of the “text” to include nonverbal renditions of the epic. Accordingly, one of its aims has been to reach across multiple disciplines to uncover the layering of “texts,” showing for instance how the requirements of a performing art such as Indonesian shadow puppetry, or of a plastic art such as sculpture, interact with the narrative materials of the epic. To take the kathakali dance style as a ready example, we may see how its stylistic conventions dictate the formation of gender identities such that the same emotional state, say grief at separation, appears differently in masculine and feminine personae. How then will the style affect the narration of the reunion of Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯ after the fall of Ra¯vanfi a? How will the audience’s understanding of the human drama, its ethical content, be affected by the manner in which the dance presents the episode? Will the style lend itself to Va¯lmı¯ki’s representation of Sı¯ta¯’s vocal outrage at Ra¯ma’s coarse rejection of her, or will it alter the episode into a portrayal of a meek Sı¯ta¯ finding solace in compliance, as in Tulsı¯da¯s’s version? The making of meaning here is clearly problematic because of the moral and political ambiguities inherent in styles of representation and one that will clearly benefit from the availability of both literary and performance analyses. To this purpose it is necessary to correlate the way we understand what we read and the way we understand what we hear or see. That is why we take the position that examining the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a across a spectrum of art forms affords opportunities for a critical comprehension both deep and wide. This broad view also brings to attention how a literary artifact has evolved as an entire and self-sustaining cultural system. Without claiming to be exhaustive in its disciplinary coverage, this volume has chosen to em-



phasize approaches that support one another, in the editor’s estimate, in uncovering multiple connections between the story, its retellers, and its audiences. Unquestionably, there are other approaches that may lead to instructive insights in the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. An obvious one is the sociological; for instance, the economics of the production of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a is organically related to the politics of its dissemination. But not only is a compendium of methodologies impracticable (given the economics of publishing, for one thing!), it is also necessary to concede that the needs of a focused comprehension dictate selectivity. In this editor’s judgment, explorations in performance, iconography, narrative design, and gender representation are approaches that dovetail effectively to create such a focus, because each demonstrates the process by which form and substance come together to construct meaning in relation to social, political, and cultural contexts. Broadly speaking, the contributions to this volume address one or more of three areas of inquiry: the narrative structures of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a; the types, techniques, and contents of performances; and the social content—particularly gender implications—of both narrative manipulations and representational forms. Although there are frequent crossovers between these areas, the essays aim at particular emphases. The collection begins with studies that focus on the literary text, first that of Va¯lmı¯ki and then regional retellings. These are followed by essays that deal with revisions of commonly known narrative elements, whereby particular aesthetic or ethical values have been projected. That similar alterations also appear in performances is demonstrated by studies in dance dramas and musical performances from two regions of India, whereas two essays on the performing arts of Southeast Asia examine the political imperatives that underlie narrative choices and performance techniques. In order to keep in view the vast extent of renderings of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, three broad surveys of the visual and performance arts have been included. Inevitably, there are overlaps between the studies presented here, because in choosing particular aspects of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a the authors are keenly aware of the implications of their findings for other areas. Textual studies, for instance, are also studies in ideas of gender and power, and accounts of performances recognize the importance of narrative traditions. These crossovers are, in my judgment, the best argument for the principle on which this volume has been assembled, that is, the need for correlating separate areas of Ra¯ma¯yanfi a studies. The first two articles of the volume are grounded in Va¯lmı¯ki’s Ra¯ma¯yana, the earliest text of the legend, and examine its relationship with the narrative and ideological tradition it initiated, especially in the context of the implications of its design. In his essay on resistance to the idolization of Ra¯ma, Robert Goldman suggests that the undercutting of the ideological positions within Va¯lmı¯ki’s original narrative that modern studies in the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a identify as a powerful force in alternative Ra¯ma¯yanfi as is incipient in the original text itself. Noting the formative influence of the great epics of India on the construction of the South Asian ethos, especially on formulations of gender and power,



Goldman shows how the authority of Va¯lmı¯ki’s text is modulated by its rhetorical strategies. In his study of episodes from Va¯lmı¯ki’s original narrative that are built upon debates, and of the symbiosis of their rhetorical and conceptual texture, Goldman uncovers the narrative process by which ideologies of gender and power are formed. The “forensic encounters” between the major characters of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, Goldman argues, work toward enforcing adherence to the ethical and political ideals that emerge as dominant directives. However, since the narrative falters whenever the opposition embodied in these encounters becomes irreconcilable, Goldman views this as Va¯lmı¯ki’s own problematizing of women’s subordination to the patriarchy, and raises the possibility that Va¯lmı¯ki himself accommodates within his narrative a degree of resistance to hegemony. The relationship between ideology and narrative design is also examined by Sally J. Sutherland Goldman in her study of the Sundaraka¯nfi dfi a of Va¯lmı¯ki’s Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, in which she correlates the representation of gender and space to show how they affect the narrative structure of the epic. Taking as examples Hanuma¯n’s heroic leap toward Lan˙ka¯ and his encounters with various figures, primarily Surasa¯ and S´ikhika¯, on the way, Sutherland Goldman finds the episode an intentionally gendered narrative vital to the structural integrity of the ka¯nfi dfi a. In her view, the physical space in which the various episodes of the epic are set is systematically marked with gender attributes, and this marking is systematic, intentional, and necessary for the internal logic of the narrative. These articles are followed by three studies, by William Smith, Mandakranta Bose, and Paula Richman, on regional versions of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, beginning with a broad review of eastern versions and continuing with explorations in aspects of particular revisions. William Smith’s review of the forms and versions in which the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a appears in eastern India, specifically in Assam, Bengal, and Orissa since medieval times, shows that although these versions were derived from Va¯lmı¯ki’s Sanskrit poem, they are reflections of local religious and social influences. Tracing both bhakti and and s´a¯kta sources, such as the Adhya¯tma Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, Tulsı¯da¯s’s devotional Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, and the Adbhuta Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, in the eastern Ra¯ma¯yanfi as, Smith argues that the story of Ra¯ma thereby became the major and most widely accessible repository of religious and social ideas for mass audiences in eastern India. The eastern tradition is placed within a narrower scope by Mandakranta Bose, who examines the representation of the feminine in Ra¯ma tales in the culture of Bengal. Noting that whole episodes are invented in Krfittiva¯sa’s fifteenth-century Bengali Ra¯ma¯yanfi a to ascribe self-defining roles to women, Bose relates these changes to the dominance of the bhakti doctrine sweeping through the region. An even more sustained celebration of the idea of the mystical power of the feminine appears in the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of the father-and-son team Jagadram and Ramprasad, in which Sı¯ta¯ is revealed as the embodiment of devı¯ and brings about the final conquest of evil by defeating the thousandheaded Ra¯vanfi a, whom Ra¯ma is unable to subdue. Here, as in Krfittiva¯sa, the spiritual stance is that of bhakti, which dominates the Bengali narrative tradition of the Ra¯makatha¯. Yet even within this tradition of devotion, a radically



different voice is heard in the retelling of the epic in the eighteenth century by the woman poet Candra¯vatı¯. A deeply religious woman herself, Candra¯vatı¯ nonetheless directs her sympathy toward Sı¯ta¯, going so far as to turn the epic mainly into Sı¯ta¯’s story, but also that of Mandodarı¯’s life and the poet’s own as parallel legends of women’s suffering. The evident subtext of Candra¯vatı¯’s writing is the miserable lot of women in general, which marks a distinctive trend in Bengali Ra¯ma¯yanas. Bose points out that the questioning of Ra¯ma’s actions, of Sı¯ta¯’s treatment in particular, is a common feature of Bengali Ra¯ma tales. Even a retelling as devoted to celebrating Ra¯ma’s divinity as the earlynineteenth century bardic version by the renowned rural poet Dasharathi Ray indulges in occasional questioning of Ra¯ma’s justice. Later in the nineteenth century, Michael Madhusudan Datta revolutionzed the tradition of retelling the Ra¯makatha¯ in his Bengali epic inspired by Homer and Virgil, the Meghana¯davadha Ka¯vya, which imported a secularized view into the tradition. His contempt for Ra¯ma remains unmatched, but later Bengali writers have continued to undercut the conventional devotional stance in consistently satirical retellings. Putting to close scrutiny a short story and a farcical play for children, Bose shows how the Ra¯ma¯yana has been used in Bengal as both an instrument to question received tradition and a storehouse for narrative models. Regional retellings also form the basis of Paula Richman’s essay, in which she examines the interest found across south India in an episode originating in the Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a attributed to Va¯lmı¯ki’s Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Among the actions for which Ra¯ma has been most frequently criticized in south India, she notes, the story of the beheading of S´ambu¯ka, a low-caste ascetic, by Ra¯ma stands out for the attention it has drawn. Three twentieth-century plays, one each in Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada, deal with the episode, reflecting in their revaluation of the main characters, their interaction, and the ethical implications of Ra¯ma’s action the vigorous debate on caste in south India in the first half of the twentieth century. All three depart from the original story in responding to the killing of S´ambu¯ka with horror and clear him from the taint of adharma, although in one of them the ending is radically changed from the Va¯lmı¯ki original, and S´ambu¯ka is not killed by Ra¯ma, who is envisioned by the playwright as a wise and compassionate ruler who rises above brahminical prejudice. The other two plays are critical of Ra¯ma, one for his refusal to admit the spiritual equality of men, and the other for what it views as his political use of S´ambu¯ka’s transgression to shut out low-caste people from institutions of privilege. Different as they are in their stands regarding Ra¯ma, all three plays attempt to explain the complex motivations behind the brahminical prohibition against the practice of asceticism by a low-caste person, and all are ranged against that prohibition. Their treatment of the episode thus implies a critical response to the authority of texts. Describing both the arguments and the stage-history of the plays in detail, Richman develops the idea that the reiteration of the same episode in the plays and their longevity in south India suggests the centrality of caste-bound power relations in the region. With equal force, she points out that these modern dramatizations of the episode reveal the persistence of oppositional strands within the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a tradition. Here again we may see how



the particular historical consciousness of a cultural region may crystallize in response to the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, and how in the moral and narrative complexity of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, narrators can find matrices for organizing their own times and worlds, as indeed attested by contemporary authors. One must, however, tread warily in entwining location and theme, and in identifying types of narrative alterations as distinctive regional characteristics, all the more because regional emphases are often easy to assume. For example, whereas the alternative Ra¯ma¯yanfi as from eastern India commonly emphasize the plight of women within the power relations authorized by the mainstream Ra¯ma tales, the emphasis in the revisionist versions of south India seem to be on the racial oppression embedded in those relations. Do these regional patterns of emphasis reflect equally distinctive patterns of regional social experience? Are Bengali counternarratives mostly expressions of women’s historical disempowerment and resistance, whereas Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada narratives are mostly reflections of the antibrahmanical sentiment of modern south India? Closer scrutiny urges caution, for contrary evidence often springs to mind—for instance, the existence of Telugu women’s narrative songs. The fact is that not enough work has yet been done in historicizing regional Ra¯ma¯yanfi as to warrant a ready answer, and there are indeed crossovers in patterns of emphasis among regional versions that preclude quick theorizing. In Telugu women’s versions, the focus is on Sı¯ta¯’s suffering, not on racial oppression. On the other hand, in the Bengali story that Bose discusses in her essay, the satire targets both male and Aryan self-valorization. Thus, instead of looking for dominant regional characteristics it is perhaps more useful to examine the crossovers of theme and character modeling and the undercurrents that flow across cultural boundaries. With the next two essays we turn to examples of the correlation between alterations in the narrative and shifts in the interpretation of episodes. These essays, the first by Philip Lutgendorf and the next by Heidi Pauwels, deal with episodes and characters from the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in the north Indian tradition, as they appear in textual as well as performance traditions. They also address the gender representation in classical, medieval, and contemporary practices. Philip Lutgendorf focuses on Hanuma¯n and his influence on the devotees of Ra¯ma both in South and Southeast Asia and in the diaspora. Heidi Pauwels discusses in detail the impact of the televised Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in India and in the diaspora, comparing one of its highlighted episodes with its originals in Va¯lmı¯ki and Tulası¯da¯s. The role of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in mirroring and reinforcing dominant ethical ideals is examined by Philip Lutgendorf, who traces the idealization of Hanuma¯n in South and Southeast Asian societies, in textual as well as performance formats such as wrestling. He notes that although Hanuma¯n is idolized as the perfect devotee in view of his celibacy, the misogyny inherent in the ideal of celibacy is recognized in folk retellings. Lutgendorf further shows how this recognition is countered in Southeast Asian folklore by fitting Hanuma¯n into a householder lifestyle in which the human and the simian norms meet, and Hanuma¯n is endowed with a piscine female as wife and a son. In the devel-



opment of the Hanuma¯n figure, then, we may see a problematic correlation between ascetic, romantic, and misogynist ideals that calls into question assumptions about gender roles and identities. The relationship between narrative design and gender roles is studied by Heidi Pauwels in her essay, in which she compares three versions of the wedding of Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯ as they appear in the Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, in Tulsı¯da¯s’s Ra¯mcaritma¯nas, and the TV version by Ramanand Sagar. She shows how the classical, medieval, and contemporary portrayals differ from each other, and speculates about what meanings the refocusing of the narrative may hold for the cultural authority of contemporary mass media. Pauwels concludes that through the different periods from which she has followed the episode, its focus has shifted from duty to devotion, and from devotion to entertainment, although the message of wifely devotion has, if anything, gained greater currency and has solidified conventional gender paradigms. The issue of gender paradigms prompts Velcheru Narayana Rao to ask how fixed a fictional character’s identity can be when the character is recreated through multiple versions of the narrative. Narayana Rao notes that in comparison to other legendary women of India, such as Draupadı¯ of the Maha¯bha¯rata, the gopis of the Bha¯gavata Pura¯nfi a, and the women characters of the Katha¯-sarit-sa¯gara, Sı¯ta¯ has emerged as the epitome of wifely devotion and self-sacrifice, especially in the twentieth century. Her emergence as a model depends on certain signifiers, a crucial one being her insistence on following Ra¯ma into exile. But can her identity remain inviolate if some of these signifiers are omitted? Just as a change in phonemes in a word changes the word itself, could changes in the array of episodes that feature Sı¯ta¯ change the very idea of Sı¯ta¯? Drawing upon several retellings of the Ra¯ma¯ynfi a and the more recent tradition of “anti-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a” texts, Narayana Rao attempts to discover the boundaries that hold together the idea of Sı¯ta¯ even as they permit innovations in representing her. Innovations in both plot construction and gender representation are examined by Bruce Sullivan with regard to the kutfiiya¯fitfitam theater of Kerala, in which three classical Sanskrit plays feature prominently. He points out that all of them capitalize on departures from Va¯lmı¯ki’s text and are tailored to the unique features of the kutfiiya¯fitfitam style of acting, which affect the representation of the story. In this performance idiom, which can be traced back to the tenth century, characters mimic the psychological states and actions of other characters across lines of gender and species (such as Ra¯vanfi a enacting Sı¯ta¯’s moods, or Hanuma¯n enacting Ra¯ma’s), whereby gender identities in particular are loosened from those set by Va¯lmı¯ki. In his study, Sullivan shows how the kutfiiya¯fitfitam performance tradition transforms the plot of the epic and challenges the audience to relish complex, multiple-identity characters. One of the many performance modes in which the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a has appeared is considered in the next essay by Vidyut Aklujkar, who describes a musical adaptation of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a from Maharashtra. Created in the early 1950s for radio audiences, the Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a was a series of fifty-six songs in the Marathi language set to music in the classical style. Broadcast every week,



the program quickly won large audiences at the time, and more recently it has again become popular at home and abroad. Such was its popularity that the composer began to perform the songs to live audiences and continued to do so through a twenty-five-year stretch. He was followed by other singers elsewhere in India and, more recently, in North America. Attempting to explain the instant success and enduring appeal of the series, Aklujkar balances the creative genius of both the creator and the singer against the intrinsic strengths of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, noting that the musical series has become a defining identifier of the culture that produced it. With the next two essays we not only move out of Indian forms of the Ra¯ma¯yana but also move toward understanding its discursive instrumentality in social and political exchange. Whereas Laurie Sears delves into the historical and evolutionary process of the movement of Ra¯ma¯yanfi a story in Indonesia and its religious and political implications, Kaja McGowan undertakes a topical and contemporary inquiry into the use of the story in East Timor as a framework within which the nation’s troubled and erased history is being reconstructed. Sears argues that cross-cultural traffic between Hindu-Javanese social and religious practices, on the one hand, and those of the Muslim immigrants who arrived in the eighteenth century, on the other, have resulted in a synthesis in which Javanese shadow puppeteers not only find audiences for Hindu myths across religious boundaries but also adapt Maha¯bha¯rata puppets to tell Ra¯ma¯yanfi a stories. The process, Sears states, subverts the linearity of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a but builds a discourse in which the puppets serve as material objects that encode ideas of character, ethics, behavior, and morals. The use of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a as a mediating artifact between politics and semiotics is examined by Kaja McGowan in her essay on the conservation and interpretation of history in East Timor. In its violent history, mapmaking has often turned into a military contest, obliterating the actuality of public experience and history which, McGowan believes, may nonetheless be recovered through silent objects as witnesses. In East Timor, the historical experience of foreign domination and destruction is sought to be recovered, interpreted, and validated within an allegorical framework supplied by the theme of Sı¯ta¯’s abduction by Ra¯vanfi a, which is conveyed through a unique artistic medium, that of intricately embossed shell casings depicting the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a episode. McGowan argues that this ekphrastic entry into sites of domination and contest from which conventional language has been erased has been made possible by the availability of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a as a narrative model. The place of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in the performing arts of Southeast Asia is assessed by Julie Mehta in her survey of the performance traditions of Thailand and Cambodia, which traces their roots, their evolution, and their impact on contemporary cultural and social life. While the epic has been the single richest source of inspiration for sculpture, it exists in a more dynamic relationship with the indigenous cultures of Southeast Asia in dance dramas. Mehta observes that though these performance forms are deeply rooted in the original Indian narrative, their plot and characters are altered to fit the specific psyche and artistic traditions of the Thai-Khmer social milieu. This has occasionally



resulted in significant deviations from the Indian sources in the construction of plot and character, leading to substantially different ethical points of view. As a wrap-up to the volume, Kapila Vatsyayan’s essay offers a wide-ranging inquiry into the role of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in shaping the arts of South and Southeast Asia since early times, which leads her to a many-layered argument about the nature of the formative role of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in artistic production; of the relationship between the literary, visual, and kinetic arts; of the criteria for the selection of themes and narrative elements in the arts; and of the interdependence of content and medium. Along with an extensive inventory of the visual and plastic arts, especially painting and sculpture, in India, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Malayasia, Burma, Java, and Bali, she lists literary versions in different languages and from religious traditions other than the Hindu, such as the Buddhist and the Jain. Noting that across the vast terrain of Asian arts the representation of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a has varied widely, and that attitudes to themes and protagonists have changed over time even as the presence of the epic remains unchallenged, Vatsyayan suggests that this process of dynamic cultural negotiation may revolve around an indispensable thematic core to generate countless variants. As a parallel to this process, she posits an interaction between a regionwide model and its local retooling. This view of a dynamic of diversity leads her to ask whether the varied expressions of the epic reveal a specifically Asian aesthetic. As a supplement to her observations, Vatsyayan provides in an appendix an inventory of the visual and plastic arts, especially painting and sculpture, of India, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Malayasia, Burma, Java, and Bali, as well as of literary versions in different languages and from different religious traditions, such as Buddhist and Jain, in addition to the Hindu heritage. As acknowledged at the beginning of this introduction, the essays presented here neither cover the entire field they explore nor offer the last words on their subjects. But as parts of a joint venture, they attempt to demonstrate the critical importance of correlating the varied identities of a work of the epic imagination. In doing so, these studies not only take fresh critical positions but reaffirm the centrality of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a to humanist scholarship. Va¯lmı¯ki’s ancient prediction still holds true: Ya¯vaccandradiva¯karau dyuloke pracarisfiyatahfi / Ta¯vad Ra¯ma¯yanfi ikatha¯ bhu¯loke pracarisfiyati// As long as the sun and the moon reign in the sky, the story of Ra¯ma will continue to reign on earth. It is hoped that the present volume will help to extend this singular longevity of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a by probing the sources of its vigor. notes 1. Leaving aside the wealth of journal articles, the full, book-length works over the past twenty years include: Brockington 1984; Goldman et al. 1984–in progress;



Hart and Heifetz 1988; Lutgendorf 1991; Smith 1988; Thiel-Horstmann 1991; Richman 1991 and 2001; and van der Veer 1988. 2. A full inventory of dramatic and film renditions of Ra¯ma tales is not yet available, but stage and film versions have been made by major figures in the performing arts such as Uday Shankar, Shanti Bardhan, Rukmini Devi Arundale, and Utpal Dutt. Critical work on the Ra¯mlı¯la¯ is more substantial, and the recent literature includes Parkhill 1993; Schechner and Hess 1993; Bonnemaison and Macy 1990; Kapur 1990; Sax 1990; and Hess 1983. Although Sooraj Barjatya’s 1995 hit film, Hum aapke hain kaun? (Who am I to you?) was not a Ra¯ma¯yanfi a remake, it closely paralleled an idealized pattern of family relationships and values. 3. V. Dalmia-Luderitz 1991. 4. Davis 1996; Lutgendorf 1995; Pollock 1993; Datta 1993; and Thapar 1989. 5. My emphasis on the public nature of this subscription is deliberate and reflects some doubt as to private engagement with the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a; almost none of the households canvassed in Vancouver in 2002 reported possession of a copy. 6. The Legend of Prince Rama: Ramayana. Produced by Nippon Ramayana Films and directed by Yugo Sako and Vijay Nigam. An international venture, the DVD is marketed by a Malaysian company from Kuala Lumpur and carries the announcement, “Ramayana Goes Where Aladdin Never Dared”! 7. As illustrated, for instance, in Thiel-Horstmann 1991; Singh and Datta 1993; and Richman 2001. 8. See, for instance, Kumar 1995. 9. As an example of such labors we may cite the work of Nilmadhab Sen, who published eighteen articles between 1949 and 1957, sixteen of them on grammar. Camille Bulcke’s work on recensions of the Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, Edward W. Hopkins’s on narrative parallels, and M. V. Kibe’s on the historicity of Lan˙ka¯, remain models of scholarship. 10. For some early notices, see Sen 1920; Raghuvira and Yamamoto 1938 and Raghavan 1961. Suniti Kumar Chatterji discussed Ra¯ma¯yanfi as from India, China, Japan, and Southeast Asia extensively in his Bengali writings scattered through numerous periodicals from the late 1920s onward and collected as a posthumous “re´sume´” in The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, 1978. Extensive studies in comparative mythology were done by Sukumar Sen, especially in his Bengali work, Ra¯makatha¯ra Pra¯k-Itiha¯sa, 1977. 11. Rabindranath Tagore 1961. 12. Raghavan 1980; Sahai 1981; and Srinivasa Iyengar 1983. 13. The phrase is Datta’s own, from a letter to his friend Rajnarayan Basu, c. 1861. On Datta’s oppositional stance, see C. Seeley, “The Raja’s New Clothes: Redressing Ra¯vanfi a in Meghana¯davadha Ka¯vya,” in Richman 1991. Clifford Hospital discusses a similar elevation of Ra¯vanfi a to heroic status in C. N. Srikantan Nayar’s Malayalam play, Lan˙ka¯laksfimı¯ na¯fitakam; see C. Hospital, “Ra¯vanfi a as Tragic Hero: C. N. Srikantan Nayar’s Lan˙ka¯laksfimı¯,” in Thiel-Horstmann 1991. 14. See, among others, V. Narayana Rao, “A Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Their Own: Women’s Oral Tradition in Telugu,” in Richman 1991. Substantial work on women’s Ra¯ma¯yanfi as was outlined by Nabaneeta Dev Sen in her Radhakrishnan Memorial Lectures at Oxford University in May 1997 (unpublished). 15. Useful surveys are offered in Raghavan 1980; see especially H. B. Sarkar, “The Migration of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Story to Indonesia”; Amin Sweeney, “The Malaysian Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in Performance”; J. R. Francisco, “The Ramayana in the Philippines”; Chamlong Sarapadnuke, “Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in Thai Theatre”; Kamala Ratnam, “The Ramayana in Laos”; S. Sahai, “The Khvay Thuaraphi”; U Than Han and U Khin Zaw, “Ra¯-



ma¯yanfi a in Burmese Literature and Arts”; and J. Tilakasiri, “Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in Sinhala Literature and Its Folk Version.” 16. My own survey of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in the performing arts of India is in its initial stage. 17. The festival has been extensively documented and examined by Blackburn 1996. 18. A valuable discussion of the correlation of the dramatic and the visual appears in a study of the ya¯tra¯ performances of (mainly) rural Bengal by Abanindranath Tagore 1969. Rabindranath Tagore’s nephew, Abanindranath (d. 1951) was the leading figure of the Bengal School of art. 19. For instance, a dance based on the life of Sı¯ta¯ by Mallika Sarabhai, and Sı¯ta¯yanfi a, a dance drama by the Canadian dancer Menaka Thakkar. 20. A notable exception is a study by Tony K. Stewart and Edward C. Dimock, “Krttiba¯sa’s Apophatic Critique of Ra¯ma’s Kingship,” in Richman 2001. 21. Dev Sen 2000.

references Blackburn, Stuart H. Inside the Drama-House. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Bonnemaison, S., and C. Macy. 1990. “The Ramlila in Ramnagar.” Design Quarterly 147. Brockington, John. 1984. Righteous Ra¯ma: The Evolution of an Epic. Delhi: Oxford University Press. Chatterji, Suniti Kumar. 1978. The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a: Its Character, Genesis, History, Expansion and Exodus. Calcutta: Prajn ˜ a¯. Dalmia-Luderitz, V. 1991. “Television and Tradition: Some Observations on the Serialization of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a.” In Ra¯ma¯yanfi a and Ra¯ma¯yanfi as, edited by M. ThielHorstmann. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrasowitz. Datta, P. K. 1993. “VHP’s Ram: The Hindutva Movement in Ayodhya.” In Hindus and Others, edited by Gyanendranath Pandey. New Delhi: Viking. Davis, R. H. 1996. “The Iconography of Rama’s Chariot.” In Contesting the Nation: Religion, Community, and the Politics of Democracy in India. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Dev Sen, N. 2000. “Candra¯ratı¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a: Feminizing the Ra¯ma-Tale,” in M. Bose, ed., Faces of the Feminine in Ancient, Medieval, and Modern India (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). Goldman, Robert P., et al., eds. and trans. 1984–in progress. The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Va¯lmı¯ki: An Epic of Ancient India. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Hart, George L., and Hank Heifetz, eds. and trans. 1988. The Forest Book of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Kampan4 . Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Hertel, B. R., and C. A. Humes, eds. 1993. Living Banaras. Albany: State University of New York Press. Hess, Linda. 1983. “Ram Lila: The Audience Experience.” In Bhakti in Current Research, 1979–1982, edited by M. Thiel-Horstmann, Berlin: Dietrich Reimer. Kapur, Anuradha. 1990. Actors, Pilgrims, Kings and Gods: The Ramlila at Ramnagar. Calcutta: Seagull. Kumar, Nita. 1995. “Class and Gender Politics in the Ramlila.” In The Gods at Play, edited by William Sax. New York: Oxford University Press. Lutgendorf, Philip. 1991. The Life of a Text: Performing the Ra¯mcaritma¯nas of Tulsidas. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.



———. 1995. “Interpreting Ramraj: Reflections on the ‘Ramayana,’ Bhakti and Hindu Nationalism.” In Bhakti Religion in North India: Community Identity and Political Action, edited by D. Lorenzen. Albany: State University of New York Press. Parkhill, Thomas. 1993. “What’s Taking Place: Neighbourhood Ra¯mlı¯la¯s in Banaras.” In B. R. Hertel and C. A. Humes, eds., Living Banaras. Albany: State University of New York Press. Pollock, Sheldon. 1993. “Ra¯ma¯yanfi a and Political Imagination in India.” Journal of Asian Studies 52.2 (May). Raghavan, V. 1961. Some Old Lost Ra¯ma Plays. Annamalainagar: Annamalai University. ———, ed. 1980. The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Tradition in Asia. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi. Raghuvira and Chikiyo Yamamoto. 1938. Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in China. Nagpur: International Academy of Indian Culture. Richman, Paula, ed. 1991. Many Ra¯ma¯yanfi as: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. ———. 2001. Questioning Ra¯ma¯yanfi as: A South Asian Tradition. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Sahai, S., ed. 1981. Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in South East Asia. Gaya: Centre for South East Asian Studies. Sax, William. 1990. “The Ramnagar Ramlila: Text, Performance, Pilgrimage.” History of Religions 30.2. Schechner, R., and L. Hess. 1993. “Crossing the Water: Pilgrimage, Movement and Environmental Scenography of the Ramlila of Ramnagar.” In B. R. Hertel and C. A. Humes, eds., Living Banaras. Albany: State University of New York Press. Sen, Dineshchandra. 1920. The Bengali Ramayanas. Calcutta: University of Calcutta. Sen, Sukumar. 1977. Ra¯makatha¯ra Pra¯k-Itiha¯sa [The prehistory of the Ra¯ma legend]. Calcutta: Jijn ˜ a¯sa¯. Singh, K. S., and B. N. Datta, eds. 1993. Rama-Katha in Tribal and Folk Traditions of India. Calcutta: Anthropological Survey of India, and Seagull Books. Smith, W. L. 1988. Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Traditions in Eastern India: Assam, Bengal, Orissa. Stockholm: Department of Indology, University of Stockholm. Srinivasa Iyengar, K. R., ed. 1983. Variation in Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in Asia. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi. Tagore, Rabindranath. 1961. Java Yatrira Patra [Letters from a traveler in Java]. In Rabindra Racana¯valı¯ [Collected works], centenary edition, vol. 10. Calcutta: Government of West Bengal. Thapar, R. 1989. “The Ramayana Syndrome.” Seminar 353. Thiel-Horstmann, M., ed. 1991. Ra¯ma¯yanfi a and Ra¯ma¯yanfi as. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrasowitz. Van der Veer, Peter. 1988. Gods on Earth: The Management of Religious Experience and Identity in a North Indian Pilgrimage Centre. London: Athlone Press.

1 Resisting Ra¯ma: Dharmic Debates on Gender and Hierarchy and the Work of the Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Robert P. Goldman The great epics of India have been a source of almost continual fascination on the part of Indologists since knowledge of the Sanskrit language and its rich literary and religio-philosophical history became widely available to European scholarship at around the turn of the nineteenth century. Even now, at the turn of the twenty-first century, that fascination shows no sign of slackening. On the contrary, Indian epic studies seem to have been undergoing a revival or sorts with the recent appearance of an abundance of new translations, monographs, and collections of scholarly papers concerned with one or both of the poems or with their reworkings, retellings, and transformations into a variety of languages and sociopolitical contexts.1 Some of these works, particularly some of the essays collected by Richman and Bose, have come to grips with the important role these texts have had in South Asian constructions and institutions that involve gender, power, hierarchy, and authority. Yet, for all of this profusion of important scholarly production, only a relatively small proportion of this work has attempted to subject the epics to a close and careful rhetorical analysis in an effort to shed light on the ways in which these texts came to have the considerable influence on the formation of social attitudes and structures with and for which they are so often alternately credited and condemned, depending on the political stance of the authors. A number of recent studies of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, for example, have focused on the important and neglected topic of folk and vernacular versions of the Ra¯ma story in which the hegemonic discourses of patriarchy and social hierarchy that lie close to the heart of Va¯lmı¯ki’s


robert p. goldman

Ra¯ma¯yanfi a are contested or resisted in a variety of subaltern and/or regional retellings. Studies in this arena have recently appeared in a number of collections and monographs such as Paula Richman’s Many Ra¯ma¯yanfi as and her Questioning Ra¯ma¯yanfi as, Monika Thiel-Horstmann’s Ra¯ma¯yanfi a and Ra¯ma¯yanfi as, and William Smith’s Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Traditions in Eastern India. One assumption underlying many of these studies is that Va¯lmı¯ki’s monumental epic speaks monovalently for the brahmanical elites of ancient and medieval India, making little room available for discourses that run counter to the hegemonic and comprehensive regimes of patriarchal dominance and the varnfi a¯s´ramadharma (the duties of members of each varnfi a in the four stages of life). In this way, the a¯dika¯vya (“first poem,” the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a) is understood to be in significant contrast with the closely intertextual Maha¯bha¯rata,2 where culturally normative regimes of power, gender, religion, and social hierarchy are at times powerfully ambiguous and contested. Under no circ*mstances would it be correct to attempt to underestimate the significance of this contrast. On the other hand, there are a number of what might be called “leakages” from the supposedly hermetic value system of Va¯lmı¯ki that provide the narrative space within which the epic story with all of its moral and social didacticism can both move forward and engage its audience. This leakage affords, as well, an opportunity for us to read the epic “against the grain,” as it were, and to try thereby to recover some of the voices that the dominant discourse pushes to the margins. The present essay then will examine some episodes in Va¯lmı¯ki’s poem in which characters representing varying degrees of “subalternity” question or contest the dominant ideology of the poet and his central hero. It will argue that a close and careful reading of the debates that are framed within the narrative, as well as some of its silences, will illuminate the ideological underpinnings of this monumental work and its role in the formation of the culture and society of South Asia. In short, I will attempt to take the poem’s debates seriously, listening carefully to the substantive points and rhetorical strategies of the poet and his characters while paying close attention to the social realities that underlie them. In this way I will try to unpack the ideologies of gender and power that lend the epic much of its social and historical impact. In so doing, I hope to be able to add to our understanding of what, with a bow to Obeyesekere, I call the “work” of the epic.3 By this I refer not so much to the kind of symbolic remove through which dreams and cultural productions enable individuals and societies to work through tabooed or repressed psychic formations as to the workmanlike forensic strategies by means of which the epic poet is able to dramatize, work through, and disseminate his representation of some of the most critical concerns of the traditional culture of India’s elites. It must be understood, in undertaking such a reading of the epic, that the effort is necessarily bedeviled, like any subaltern reading of an elite document, by the problems inherent in reading an author against him or herself and seeking to read, in some cases, between the s´lokas. Moreover, if we have learned

resisting ra¯ ma


anything from the long history of textual exegesis and the much shorter one of modern cultural studies, no text really speaks unambiguously for itself, and all readings of all texts are themselves contingent acts of interpretation. This must be even more the case with a text like the Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, concerning whose authorship virtually nothing of a genuinely historical nature is known and which is, in any case, a text that cannot be confidently ascribed to a single author or even a single historical period. For the epic has grown with the culture it has served, adding and changing episodes and passages, incorporating and preserving ideologies and, above all, serving as the foundation for a massive cultural edifice of commentary, interpretation, refiguration, and performance that is one of the most characteristic features and indeed one of the wonders of Indian civilization. If, with regard to social norms, the Maha¯bha¯rata is an epic of violation, of irreducible conflicts between cultural imperatives and the subversion of them, and a brooding meditation on rupture and decay, the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a stands in sharp contrast to it as a paean to conformity, obedience, and as a handbook of social integration. This difference is the basis for the differential treatment of the poems in the traditional South Asian and specifically Hindu contexts. Yet it is the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a’s very quality of social normativity, and its resulting status as the family text par excellence and the ideal medium for the acculturation of children, that makes even its smaller leakages all the more significant and noticeable. From a structural perspective, the epic poem in its received form seems almost to play with the issues of normativity and transgressivity in its very framing narrative; in the poem’s upodgha¯ta or narrative preface, we see the two sharply juxtaposed and creatively combined to make the epic poem, in form and substance, possible. The preface opens with one of the culture’s most elaborate and well-known celebrations of the idealized South Asian male. Here Va¯lmı¯ki, a forest sage, but not yet the “first poet,” questions the divine seer Na¯rada as to the existence in the world of their time of an ideal man in terms of his moral, physical, and intellectual qualities. ko nv asmin sa¯mpratam loke gunfi ava¯n kas´ ca vı¯ryava¯n / dharmajn˜as´ ca krfitajn˜as´ ca satyava¯kyo drfidfi havratahfi // ca¯ritrenfi a ca ko yuktahfi sarvabhu¯tesfiu ko hitahfi / vidva¯n kahfi kahfi samarthas´ ca kas´ caikapriyadars´anahfi // a¯tmava¯n ko jitakrodho matima¯n ko ’nasu¯yakahfi / kasya bibhyati deva¯s´ ca ja¯tarosfiasya sam fi yuge //4 Is there a man in the world today who is truly virtuous? Who is there who is mighty and yet knows both what is right and how to act upon it? Who always speaks the truth and holds firmly to his vows? Who exemplifies proper conduct and is benevolent to all creatures? Who is learned, capable, and a pleasure to behold? Who is


robert p. goldman self-controlled, having subdued his anger? Who is both judicious and free from envy? Who, when his fury is aroused in battle, is feared even by the gods? (VR 1.1.2–4)

After a moment’s thought, Na¯rada responds with ten verses in which he identifies the Kosalan king Ra¯ma as such a person, elaborating on Va¯lmı¯ki’s terms in such a way as to leave his audience in no doubt that what is to follow will be nothing less than a kind of ancient Indian Book of Virtues.5 The seer follows his dense description of Ra¯ma’s qualities with a terse account of his tragic career, a brief description of his utopian reign, and an account of the differing benefits that accrue to the members of the four great varnfi as of Aryan social classes from hearing his story.6 All of this takes him fewer than sixty verses. But if the substance of the epic is laid out in this, its opening chapter (sarga), saturated with the all-important notion of dharma, its form is to emerge only through a rupture in the fabric of the normative. For immediately after hearing the edifying tale of Ra¯ma and its soothing conclusion, the sage makes his way through the beautiful forest to a pleasant ford (tı¯rtha) on the banks of the nearby Tamasa¯ River for his ritual bath. There he becomes enraptured by the natural beauty of the place until his attention becomes focused on a charming pair of mating cranes. But his delight suddenly turns to horror as a tribal hunter emerges from the woods to shoot and kill the male bird. Witnessing this violent disruption of the quiet sylvan scene and hearing the piteous wailing of the hen-crane, the sage is filled with a mixture of pity and rage. Denouncing this transgression (adharmo ‘yam) of the norms of civilized conduct, Va¯lmı¯ki utters his famous curse through which his grief (s´oka) is transmuted into a new medium of expression, s´loka, poetry. Through the intercession of Lord Brahma¯, this new form, born of a moment of rupture and violation, will serve as the medium for the poetic rendering of Na¯rada’s tale, even as it foreshadows its underlying theme of separation and its central aesthetic-emotive tenor, of pity, karunfi arasa.7 With this by way of my own upodgha¯ta, let me now turn to a discussion of some of the seminal passages in the longer poem in which this dialectic of norm and transgression is articulated in a series of dialogues or debates in which the violation of some central norm of dharmic conduct is posed as a kind of pu¯rvapaksfia (premise) and the norm itself put forward to trump it as it were in the form of a siddha¯ntapaksfia (conclusion). These are not, I should note at the outset, merely dummy debates designed to provide an opportunity for the reiteration of a series of cultural cliche´s. Rather they offer us a glimpse into some significant social and ethical tensions that the epic was designed, in part, to resolve. These debates involve a variety of parties who represent different genders and positions within the traditional pattern of hierarchical relationships. In most but not all cases, they are resolved in favor of the figure with higher status, and in most but again not all cases, the position most closely congruent with dharma will prevail. In several cases, however, the questions of status and

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dharma are sufficiently complex or debatable to make the arguments interesting. In a number of cases, the debates hinge upon and are in a sense fundamentally about hierarchy as the critical element in the formulation of the hegemonic discourses of varnfi a¯s´ramadharma and gender. Several of these debates do not involve Ra¯ma directly but serve to establish some critical parameters of dharma and social relations before the narrative of the epic proper even begins. An instructive example is the confrontation between Ra¯ma’s father, the aged King Das´aratha, and the fearsome king turned brahman seer, the irascible Vis´va¯mitra, when the latter comes to request the deputation of young Ra¯ma to guard his sacrifice from the depredations of the ra¯ksfiasas.8 The episode involves the clash of public duty and personal emotion that so often bedevils the heroes of the Indian epics. Here Das´aratha’s overprotective concern for the darling child of his old age leads him to attempt to rebel against two of the most powerful rules of the patriarchal culture of honor that so deeply saturates the epics. These are unquestioning deference and obedience to brahmanical renunciants and unhesitating adherence to one’s given word. The episode begins with the arrival of the irascible sage Vis´va¯mitra at the Kosalan court. The king is, naturally, delighted at the honor bestowed upon him by the visit of so august a personage, and greets him with an extravagant encomium. He compares the sage’s arrival to the falling of rain in a desert and the birth of a son to a childless man. He declares that the sage’s visit is proof that he himself has lived a virtuous life and that it represents nothing short of the fruition of his very birth.9 So effusive, in fact, is the king’s welcome that he unthinkingly goes too far, promising to fulfil faithfully any request the sage might make of him without even pausing to ascertain the actual purpose of his visit. He tells Vis´va¯mitra, “You should not hesitate about what you wish done, Kaus´ika. I will carry it out fully, for you are as a god to me.”10 Now apart from the dramatic foreshadowing here of the account of how Das´aratha will get into even more trouble over his predilection for writing this kind of blank check, the episode to this point is merely one more example of the nearly hysterical deference to the holy man that becomes the norm in Sanskrit literature. What follows, however, is a pointed illustration of the kinds of rupture in the standard models that actually drive the epic narratives. Delighted with this deferential reception, and yet perhaps anticipating Das´aratha’s discomfort, the sage praises the king and adjures him to be true to his promise (satyapratis´ravahfi ). He then reveals that he has come to demand that Ra¯ma accompany him to the wilderness to fight off the dreaded ra¯ksfiasa minions of the demon king Ra¯vanfi a.11 But once the king hears what the sage actually wants, he forgets all about his generous promise. He first begs that Ra¯ma be spared this dangerous duty and finally flatly refuses to hand him over.12 Vis´va¯mitra is infuriated by the retraction of his promise and rebukes him sharply, crying, “First you promise something, then you want to take back the promise! This turnabout is unworthy of the House of the Ra¯ghavas. If you think that this is proper, your majesty, then I will go just as I came, and you Ka¯kutstha, may rejoice with your kinsmen as one whose word is false (mithya¯pratijn˜ahfi ).”13


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To emphasize that the displeasure of a powerful person like Vis´va¯mitra is not to be taken lightly, the poet notes in the following verse that “Now when wise Vis´va¯mitra was seized with fury in this way, the whole earth shook and fear gripped the gods.”14 The situation has now come to a moment of crisis for which the poet is not yet prepared, and he must therefore act to defuse this potentially explosive conflict. He does so through the introduction of yet another immensely powerful patriarchal figure, Das´aratha’s venerable family priest (purohita) and Vis´va¯mitra’s ancient archrival, the sage (rsfii) Vasisfi fitha. The latter intervenes, reassuring the king about Vis´va¯mitra’s mastery of supernatural weaponry and his consequent power to protect Ra¯ma against even the most formidable foes. Comforted by his infallible guru, the king relents. He releases Ra¯ma into the care of Vis´va¯mitra, and the prince sets forth on his adventurous career.15 Now one might well ask what the purpose of this episode is. What is the significance of Das´aratha’s anguished retraction of his spoken word since, as it happens, he ultimately relents and accedes to the sage’s request, as he had promised to do in the first place? After all, the king’s histrionics and the sage’s wrath appear to have absolutely no consequences for the continuing narrative. Ra¯ma is not prevented from going forth on the critical quest that will gain him potent weaponry and culminate in his marriage to Sit¯a¯, nor is the king cursed for his recalcitrance. Still, it would be wrong to conclude that the passage is without significance. For it serves to reinforce the valuation of deference both to the brahman sage as a kind of earthly divinity and to the abstract concept of truth above the personal and the emotional. In this it foreshadows the aged king’s future crisis and perhaps, most critically, establishes for the first time that Das´aratha, heretofore characterized as the ideal of Hindu kingship, has, in actuality, feet of clay. For he displays here a critical tendency to permit emotion to steer him away from the path of righteousness and sound policy. In this he is constructed as a significant contrast to Ra¯ma, who, in almost all critical instances, will consistently place his sense of adherence to truth, dharma, and his public duty ahead of his emotions and personal concerns. With this as a background, let me turn to some of the well-known debates in which Ra¯ma engages which, even as they serve to reinforce the dominant ideologies of gender and class hierarchy, nonetheless, by the very fact of their being framed as debates, open up a window onto the universe of counterdiscourse, social order, and resistance. Surely the most complex and revealing debate around the issue of the potential conflict between personal loyalties and adherence to the abstract principles of truth and dharma is embodied in the series of emotionally wrought conversations involving Ra¯ma, his brother Laksfi manfi a, his mother Kausalya¯, and his wife Sı¯ta¯ concerning whether Ra¯ma should obey his father’s order that he be banished and if so, who should accompany him into exile. These discussions, which in many ways lie close to the ethical, moral, social, and political core of the poem, occupy no fewer than twelve sargas (17–28) of the Ayodhya¯ka¯nfi dfi a. The debates begin in earnest when Laksfi manfi a, after hearing Kausalya¯’s

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lamentations at the news of her son’s banishment, expresses his defiance of Das´aratha’s edict and his intention to help his brother seize the throne by force. His motive is unambiguously that of personal loyalty to Ra¯ma, but his argument is framed in terms of righteousness and political exigency.16 He argues in essence that the king’s order is illegitimate because Ra¯ma, the presumptive heir to the throne, has committed no offense that would justify his being passed over for the succession. Moreover, he asserts, Das´aratha’s rash and unrighteous command, issued to please a woman, is simply proof of his perversity, enslavement to sensuality, and senility. The king is thus unfit to rule, and his order should therefore be regarded as having no force.17 Laksfi manfi a proposes nothing short of a military coup, in the course of which he intends to slaughter any and all who might support the claim of Bharata. In brief, Laksfi manfi a argues here for a higher order of dharma as well as for the realpolitik of the warrior ethos (ksfiatradharma) in stark opposition to the imperatives of filial deference and adherence to truth that have governed Ra¯ma’s acquiescence in his dispossession. The situation becomes more complex, however, when, before Ra¯ma can respond to Laksfi manfi a, his mother Kausalya¯ thrusts herself into the debate. She urges Ra¯ma not to abandon her and to ignore the unrighteous (adharmya) orders of Kaikeyı¯.18 She then seeks to wrest the dharmic high ground from Ra¯ma by urging a version of filial piety gendered differently from the one that is motivating her son. She appeals to him in a verse noteworthy for its heavy iteration of the term dharma. dharmajn˜a yadi dharmisfifitho dharmam fi caritum icchasi / ´sus´ru¯fisa ma¯m ihasthas tvam fi cara dharmam anuttamam // You understand dharma and if you wish to carry out dharma as someone well grounded in dharma, you must stay here and obey me. You must carry out the supreme dharma. (VR 2.18.19) Kausalya¯ then puts the matter quite bluntly, opposing her authority as a mother to the paternal authority of Das´aratha. She cites the example (untraceable in the literature) of Ka¯s´yapa, who, by obeying his mother’s command (presumably to remain at home), nonetheless managed to acquire unequaled ascetic powers and attain the highest heaven.19 She then makes the claim to equal authority with Das´aratha, laying it on the line in the form of an ultimatum. yathaiva ra¯ja¯ pu¯jyas te gauravenfi a tatha¯ hy aham / tva¯m fi na¯nuja¯na¯mi na gantavyam ito vanam // “I am just as much to be revered and respected by you as is the king. I do not give you leave. You may not go away to the forest.” (VR 2.18.21) In the end Kausalya¯ reinforces her refusal to let Ra¯ma go with the timehonored threat of fasting herself to death should he disobey her, noting that if


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that were to happen, he like the divinity of the ocean through a similar but unexplained act of adharma, would incur the guilt of brahmahatya¯. This last statement is particularly significant in its effort to force the issue by regendering the transgression, equating disobedience to the mother with the culture’s ultimate and most unpardonable violation (maha¯pa¯taka) of brahmanical patriarchy, the cardinal sin of killing the arch patriarch.20 In brahmanical culture, with its powerful valorization of maternal authority as shown by the equivalence of the injunctions ma¯trfidevo bhava (treat your mother like a god) and pitrfidevo bhava (treat your father like a god)21 the Maha¯bha¯rata’s tale of the Pa¯nfi dfi avas’ polyandrous marriage as a consequence of ¯ dis´an˙kara¯their mother’s idle and unknowing remark,22 and the story of A ca¯rya’s inability to undertake renunciation sam fi nya¯sa without his mother’s permission,23 one might expect Ra¯ma’s dilemma to be a profound one. The literature is filled with numerous examples of people carrying out all manner of extreme and transgressive acts in blind obedience to the wishes of a father, mother, or guru. But rarely, as in the present case, are they faced with having to make a choice between the opposing orders of two such figures of authority. Revealingly, however, the choice seems to present Ra¯ma with little in the way of a real conflict. After hearing his mother’s piteous words and her threat to end her life, the righteous (dharma¯tman) prince replies in words that the author signals in advance to be in keeping with dharma (dharmasam fi hitam) that there is really nothing to choose here, as regardless of what Kausalya¯ may do or say he is incapable of deviating from his father’s instructions.24 Significantly, he supports giving higher priority to a father’s words than to those of mother by adducing not one but three exemplary tales from traditional lore in which sons obey transgressive orders from their fathers. In each of these cases, moreover, the paternal order is to destroy a mother or symbol of motherhood. The first of these is that of the wise and dharma-knowing seer Kanfi dfi u who, Ra¯ma asserts, killed a cow on the instructions of his father.25 The second is the story, told at length in the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a, of how Ra¯ma’s own ancestors, the sons of King Sagara, followed their father’s orders to dig up the earth, though it cost them their lives.26 These examples are pointed and saturated with cultural meaning. The thought of killing a cow is of course fraught with severe psychic trauma in the epics and the Hindu cultural formations they encode and support. The earth is a quintessentially maternal divinity, the “wife” of the king and, in the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a especially, the mother of Sı¯ta¯. Then too, the adduction of the second story drawn from his own family history (asma¯kam fi ca kule pu¯rvam) literally moves the matter closer to home. Ra¯ma’s third and final example is more immediate still, and is utterly stripped of even the thin veil of symbolism that slightly softens the earlier two. For this is the terrifying tale, narrated in full in the Maha¯bha¯rata, of how Ra¯ma Ja¯madagnya, the avataric precursor of Ra¯ma, obeyed his father’s dreadful command to slaughter his own mother with an axe.27 The message here is unambiguously clear, and Ra¯ma reinforces it in his summation, telling Kausalya¯ that his inescapable duty on this earth, like that

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of the illustrious predecessors he has mentioned, is to obey the commands of his father above all. Having thus disposed of his mother’s objections, Ra¯ma returns to those of his brother. He reverts to the central issue of dharma, equating it in this case with obedience to what he characterizes as the dharmic instructions of Das´aratha. Once again the emphasis on dharma and the iteration of the term are noteworthy. dharmo hi paramo loke dharme satyam fi pratisfifithitam / dharmasam fi s´ritam etac ca pitur vacanam uttamam // Dharma is paramount in the world and on dharma is truth founded. This command of Father’s is based on dharma and is absolute. (VR 2.18.33) Having thus authoritatively settled this potentially thorny ethical dilemma, at least for the purposes of the present context, Ra¯ma is free to revert to a more general s´a¯straic rule in which such a conflict is not anticipated. He tells Laksmanfi a, fi Having once heard a father’s command, a mother’s, or a brahman’s, one must not disregard it, my mighty brother, if one would hold to dharma. (VR 2.18.34) Once Ra¯ma has settled this debate on the relative status of matriarchal and patriarchal authority in favor of the latter, he can turn his attention to the issue raised by Laksfi manfi a, to wit, the conflict between the imperatives of filial deference on the one hand and that of the warrior code on the other. This too is not a trivial debate, nor is its resolution always as clear as Va¯lmı¯ki tries to make it. It constitutes, after all, in many ways the narrative and emotional core of the Maha¯bha¯rata where, in its most critical tests—the battle between Arjuna and his surrogate father Bhı¯sfi ma and that between the same hero and his son Babhruva¯hana—it is always resolved in favor of the warrior code and through the violence of parricide.28 Ra¯ma concludes his argument with Laksfi manfi a here by contrasting the dharma of deference and filial subordination with the aggressive and unyielding code of the warrior. tad ena¯m fi visrfija¯na¯rya¯m fi ksfiatradharma¯s´rita¯m fi matim / dharmam a¯s´raya ma¯ taiksfinfi yam fi madbuddhir anugamyata¯m // So give up this ignoble notion that is based on the dharma of the kshatriyas; be of like mind with me and base your actions on dharma not violence. (VR 2.18.30–31) This idea of giving social or filial dharma precedence over the violent code of the warrior is central to the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a’s construction of the ideal dharmic man and monarch,29 and is in radical opposition to Krfisfi nfi a’s famous exhortation of Arjuna in the Gı¯ta¯ to place svadharma, in this case the very same ksfiatra-


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dharma mentioned by Ra¯ma, above the compulsions of filial duty and deference. Ra¯ma’s powerful arguments are critical to our understanding of Va¯lmı¯ki’s vision of social and political dharma. They are, however, not yet conclusive. There remain some additional issues that must be explored in debate with both Laksfi manfi a and Kausalya¯. Ra¯ma urges his brother to act at once to call off his own planned consecration so that the anxieties of Kaikeyı¯ and Das´aratha can be speedily allayed.30 He then turns to a secondary line of argument, stating that Kaikeyı¯’s perverse actions and his own sudden reversal of fortune can only have resulted from the workings of fate (krfita¯nta, daiva) which, he asserts, all men are powerless to resist.31 In this way he seeks both to dissuade Laksfi manfi a from any rash action and to relieve Kaikeyı¯ of the onus of responsibility for her actions. But Ra¯ma’s suggestion that one should submit meekly to one’s fate only serves to inflame once more the manly wrath of Laksfi manfi a. He denounces such submission as a sign of fear and cowardice, arguing that a real man must attempt to counter fate with his own virile action (purusfiaka¯ra). He expresses only contempt for Ra¯ma’s conception of a dharma that can permit so wrongful a thing as his exile to take place. Finally, he once again takes recourse to the code of the warrior, vowing to massacre single-handedly any and all who might stand in the way of his brother’s consecration.32 But this outburst merely presents Ra¯ma with yet one more opportunity to remind his brother (and us) that he is unalterably resolved to follow his father’s orders. For only such deference to patriarchal authority, he asserts, constitutes the path of the virtuous (satpathahfi ).33 This response is—at least for the time being—sufficient to silence Laksfi manfi a’s angry objections and reconcile him to his brother’s unshakable resolve.34 In the meanwhile, Kausalya¯, having failed in her efforts to prevent her son from leaving the city, attempts another line of argument. She proposes that if he will not stay with her, she will go with him, accompanying him into exile. This argument enables Ra¯ma to steer the debate away from the issue of generational deference to patriarchal authority to that of the gendered deference of a wife to her husband. Ra¯ma rejects Kausalya¯’s plea to be permitted to accompany him on grounds that are interesting in the light of his extensive debate with Sı¯ta¯ on this very subject, to which the present one serves as a preamble. He argues that Kausalya¯ cannot accompany him because it is under no circ*mstances permissible for a woman to leave her husband. For a woman to desert her husband is wickedness (nrfis´am fi sahfi ) pure and simple. You must not do so despicable a thing, not even think it. As long as my father and lord of the world, Ka¯kutstha, lives, he must be shown obedience, for that is the eternal way of righteousness (sa hi dharmahfi sana¯tanahfi ). (VR 2.21.9–10) Thus reminded of her wifely dharma, Kausalya¯ sorrowfully accedes. The question, however, lies far too close to the heart of the poem’s social message

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to be put to rest so easily. As Ra¯ma goes on to reiterate the absolute imperative of obedience to the patriarchal power as it is manifested in all of its various manifestations—father, husband, ultimate guru, master, and king—and to speak of his own impending fourteen years of separation from his mother, Kausalya¯ once more loses her composure and presses him to take her with him to the wilderness.35 This presents Ra¯ma with yet another opportunity to reiterate the necessity of a wife’s complete subordination to her husband, which is parallel to the subordination of son to father. He pronounces this subordination to be infallibly enjoined, since it is part of the ancient and eternal dharma revealed in the Veda itself. jı¯vantya¯ hi striya¯ bharta¯ daivatam fi prabhur eva ca / bhavatya¯ mama caiva¯dya ra¯ja¯ prabhavati prabhuhfi // . . . vratopava¯sanirata¯ ya¯ na¯rı¯ paramottama¯ / bharta¯ram fi na¯nuvarteta sa¯ ca pa¯pagatir bhavet // s´us´ru¯s´a¯m eva kurvı¯ta bhartuhfi priyahite rata¯ / esfia dharmahfi pura¯ drfisfifito loke vede s´rutahfi smrfitahfi // So long as she lives, a woman’s one deity and master is her husband. And today the king our master is exercising his mastery over you and me. . . . Even the most excellent of women, one who earnestly undertakes vows and fasts, will come to an evil end if she does not respect her husband’s wishes. A woman must show her husband obedience and earnestly strive to please and benefit him. Such is the dharma discovered long ago, revealed in the Veda and handed down in the world. (VR 2.21.17; 20–21) This argument at last succeeds in reconciling the grief-stricken queen to her son’s fate; and she tearfully gives him her blessings and her permission to depart.36 This three-way debate with its complex dialectics is central to the construction of the poem and to the characterization of its hero. It also serves as an appropriate context for and transition to Ra¯ma’s next debate on social dharma, his lengthy and well-known argument with Sı¯ta¯ over whether she will be permitted to accompany him into exile or be forced to remain behind at the Kosalan court. After calming his grieving mother, Ra¯ma leaves her apartments and proceeds directly to those of his wife. There he tells her the terrible news of his exile, informing her that she is to remain behind in Ayodhya¯. He then gives her detailed instructions as to how she is to comport herself under the rule of Bharata, always effacing herself, never boasting of Ra¯ma’s virtues, always showing respect and affection to the elders of the family including Kaikeyı¯, and treating Bharata and S´atrughna, respectively, as a brother and a son.37 Ra¯ma’s command that Sı¯ta¯ remain at home during his years of exile provokes an interesting and unexpected clash between the two absolute wifely obligations enunciated in his debate with Kausalya¯. For there he had argued


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first that a wife must unhesitatingly and absolutely submit to her husband’s will, and second that she must never, on the risk of incurring the vilest sin, leave his side. But now what in Kausalya¯’s case were complementary rules emerge in the case of Sı¯ta¯ as in irreconcilable conflict. The issue is a complex and provocative one, and the poet allows no fewer than five full sargas consisting (in the critical edition) of 123 verses in which it can be fully debated.38 Ra¯ma’s announcement that he proposes to leave Sı¯ta¯ behind prompts an unexpectedly powerful and angry response. She argues passionately and articulately for the special character of the husband-wife relationship that sets it apart from all other family ties, no matter how close. For, she claims, all other relatives are karmically independent agents, each experiencing the effects of his or her own past actions, while in contrast a wife is existentially bound to her husband, sharing in his karmic destiny. She thus insists that Das´aratha’s order of banishment must apply to her as well as to Ra¯ma, and she is therefore in fact obligated to accompany him to the forest.39 She repeats Ra¯ma’s earlier argument that a wife’s place is always at her husband’s side, expressing only eagerness to enjoy life with him in what she imagines to be a romantic sylvan idyll.40 Ra¯ma, however, although he had sternly rebuffed Kausalya¯’s request to accompany him on the basis of precisely this logic, now rejects this argument, telling Sı¯ta¯ that she must stay behind in Ayodhya¯. In this he places wifely duty (svadharma) ahead of what he regards as mere personal desire. As in many of these debates in which Ra¯ma attempts to seize the moral high ground, the poet signals this by clothing him in epithets incorporating the term dharma.41 evam fi bruvatı¯m fi sı¯ta¯m fi dharmajn˜o dharmavatsalahfi / nivartana¯rthe dharma¯tma¯ va¯kyam etad uva¯ca ha // As Sı¯ta¯ was speaking in this fashion the dharmic prince, who understood dharma and cherished dharma, said the following in order to dissuade her. (VR 2.25.1) In a further effort to persuade her to stay behind in the comfort and safety of the capital, Ra¯ma launches upon an elaborate and detailed account of the many hardships, discomforts, and dangers of life in the wilderness.42 Sı¯ta¯, however, is not to be easily put off by Ra¯ma’s words. Instead she responds with a variety of rhetorical strategies of her own. She argues that the hardships he describes would seem like luxuries to her if only she could share them with him. She reiterates her claim that she is as fully constrained by Das´aratha and Kaikeyı¯’s orders as he. She maintains that with him to protect her she could come to no harm. She threatens that she will commit suicide if she is abandoned. She tells him that her sojourn in the forest is preordained, having been foretold long ago, in her youth, by the brahmans at her father’s court, and that she has in fact always longed for the simple life of a forest dweller. She even cites scriptural authority to the effect that death itself cannot part a woman from the man to whom she has been duly given in marriage.43 But all of Sı¯ta¯’s varied and impassioned rhetoric is in vain. Ra¯ma once

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more refuses his consent.44 Still Sı¯ta¯ will not accept her husband’s command. She responds in a manner far more forceful than that of her earlier sorrowful entreaty. She lashes out angrily at her husband, reviling him with a vehemence more fitting to the sharp-tongued Draupadı¯ than to that of the unusually deferential and submissive Sı¯ta¯.45 Her attack clearly foregrounds the issue of gender that lies at the heart of these debates. For not only does she assume here a “masculine” stance in outspokenly rebuking and criticizing her husband, she also explicitly characterizes Ra¯ma’s hesitation to take her with him as evidence of a distinctly feminine timidity. kim fi tv a¯manyata vaidehahfi pita¯ me mithila¯dhipahfi / ra¯ma ja¯ma¯taram fi prapya striyam fi purusfiavigraham // anrfitam fi bata loko ‘yam ajn˜a¯na¯d yad dhi vaksfiyati / tejo na¯sti param fi ra¯me tapatı¯va diva¯kare // kim fi hi krfitva¯ visfianfi nfi as tvam fi kuto va¯ bhayam asti te / yat parityaktuka¯mas tvam fi ma¯m ananyapara¯yanfi a¯m // What could my father Vaideha, the lord of Mithila¯, have had in mind when he took you for a son-in-law, Ra¯ma, a woman with the body of a man? How the people lie in their ignorance. Ra¯ma’s “great power” is not at all like the power of the blazing sun that brings the day. On what grounds are you so reluctant, what are you afraid of that you are ready to desert me, who has no other refuge? (VR 2.27.3–5) Note how, in these sharp words, Sı¯ta¯ manages to conjure up in contrast to Ra¯ma the figure of an idealized patriarch, a real man, as it were, in the person of her own father, King Janaka of Videha who, like the people of Ayodhya¯ themselves, she portrays as having been misled in his thinking of Ra¯ma as a man of valor. Sı¯ta¯ has thus knocked Ra¯ma off balance, as it were, by appearing to dislocate the gendering of character that is so central to the poets’ social vision. She has placed Ra¯ma in a defensive posture with regard to his own courage and manliness and his ability to protect his wife. At this moment in the forensic battle of the sexes, Sı¯ta¯ is able cleverly to address the core gender concern that will emerge as critical to the poem and the culture that it has served. This is the sexual purity of women of the upper classes and the preservation of their male kinsmen’s honor, which depends absolutely upon the perception of this purity.46 As an aristocratic woman in the patriarchal culture of the epic period, Sı¯ta¯ would have been rigorously sequestered in the private quarters (antahfi puras) first of her father and then of her husband, guarded from even the sight of all but a small circle of male relatives. That this is in fact the case is made clear a few chapters later on, when the townspeople of Ayodhya¯, watching Ra¯ma, Laksfi manfi a, and Sı¯ta¯ proceed on foot along the public highway to take their final leave of Das´aratha, cry out wonderingly:


robert p. goldman People on the royal highway can now look at Sı¯ta¯, a woman whom even the creatures of the sky have never had a glimpse of before. (VR 2.30.8)

This is pointedly reinforced later on in the Yuddhaka¯nfi dfi a, when Ra¯ma has Sı¯ta¯, her reputation for chastity and fidelity now tarnished by her captivity in the hands of Ra¯vanfi a, marched through the streets of Lan˙ka¯ before the eyes of the assembled monkeys and ra¯ksfiasas.47 Sı¯ta¯ approaches the delicate matter of sexual purity obliquely and, in the normal epic fashion, through a reference to an exemplary figure from the past. In this case it is through an allusion to the culture’s greatest paragon of wifely fidelity, the legendary Sa¯vitrı¯, to whom she compares herself in her devotion to her husband. She then swears that if she is permitted to accompany Ra¯ma she will, unlike the sort of woman who brings dishonor upon her family (kulapa¯m fi sanı¯), not so much as think of looking at another man. She even lashes out provocatively at Ra¯ma, accusing him, in proposing to leave her in the city, of acting like a pimp (s´ailusfia) eager to hand over to other men the chaste woman he had married as a virgin.48 After this brief but significant outburst, Sı¯ta¯ reverts to the more normative passive mode of feminine persuasion as it is represented in the epics. She declares her unconditional devotion to Ra¯ma, remarking that even the hardships of exile will seem delightful to her so long as she can experience them with her lord and master at her side. Predictably, she threatens to commit suicide if she is left behind; and, at the last, she dissolves in a flood of helpless tears.49 These strands of argumentation, which touch, in turn, on a number of critical issues in the relationship between the genders, at last produce its desired effect. Ra¯ma embraces Sı¯ta¯, who is by now nearly unconscious with grief, and comforts her by announcing that his refusal to allow her to accompany him was merely a ruse, a rhetorical stratagem intended to elicit her true feelings. He tells her that although he is well able to protect her in the wilderness, he could not consent to take her to the forest there without knowing her “true feelings.”50 In effect, Ra¯ma is making a test here of the intensity of Sı¯ta¯’s devotion and the strength of her adherence to the cultural ideal of wifely behavior. His statement is, moreover, somewhat ironic as Ra¯ma will, in the end, prove unable to protect Sı¯ta¯ in the forest. It also interestingly foreshadows the far more severe tests of her chastity to which Ra¯ma will subject her in Lan˙ka¯ and in Ayodhya¯. This issue will be discussed further below. The courtly, poetic indirection of epic discourse cannot, however, conceal what is fundamentally at issue here and throughout the remainder of the poem: the sexual purity of women and the reputation, honor, and status of their men, of which it is perhaps the most significant index. Ra¯ma’s final acceptance of Sı¯ta¯’s request is expressed as follows: yat srfisfifita¯si maya¯ sa¯rdham fi vanava¯sa¯ya maithili / na viha¯tum fi maya¯ s´akya¯ kı¯rtir a¯tmavata¯ yatha¯ //

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Since you are determined to live with me in the forest, Maithilı¯, I could no sooner abandon you than a self-respecting man his reputation. (VR 2.27.27) Although the simile strives to distance the upameya from the upama¯na, the virtuous Sı¯ta¯ from the abstract noun “reputation,” there is no mistaking that the poet’s choice of the former is dictated by his need to connect a woman’s sexual propriety with the critical matter of male honor. For it is precisely the calling into question of Ra¯ma’s honor (kı¯rti), intimately tied to the public’s perception of Sı¯ta¯ as a chaste wife, that will lead to the final tragedy of the poem, the very abandonment of Sı¯ta¯ that Ra¯ma describes here, ironically enough, as an impossibility. Ra¯ma’s forensic strategy of “testing” is in fact central to the structure of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a’s debates on gender. For it serves to resolve the seeming contradiction between Ra¯ma’s position in his debate with Kausalya¯, where he argues that a woman may never leave her husband for any reason, and the opposite position that he initially articulates here. It serves, therefore, as a kind of straw argument, a pu¯rvapaksfia, as it were, which forces Sı¯ta¯ to lay bare her soul in providing and performing the siddha¯nta in the form of the patriarchy’s dominant discourse on gender, according to which male honor is indexed to and equated with the rigid control of female sexuality. The issues raised in the preceding debates are in many respects the central concerns of the poet and therefore, although he has treated them exhaustively, he will return to them more than once throughout the remainder of the poem. Perhaps the most extensive such recurrence of the theme is to be found in the complex set of arguments between Ra¯ma and Bharata, which also involve the brahman Ja¯ba¯li and the seer Vasisfi fitha, the purohita and preceptor of the House of Iksfi va¯ku. This protracted conversation, which occupies fully ten chapters, 2.95–104, is an interesting one. As it serves principally as a vehicle to enable Ra¯ma to reiterate his valuation of filial devotion and his insistence on the importance of maintaining the truth of his father’s word, however, I will not examine the passage in any detail here. Many of the previous arguments concerning the gendered priority of a mother’s versus a father’s wishes and the generational pecking order (now largely focused on the relationship between older and younger brothers) are repeated here with variations. From the perspective of the conduct of these debates, however, there is one point of interest that may be noted in the present context. Ra¯ma does add some critical new information to the discussion of the nature of and the necessity for maintaining Das´aratha’s reputation for absolute truthfulness. Up until this point in the narrative, the explanation of the precise nature of Kaikeyı¯’s power over the aged king has been, it seems, both incomplete and confused. In the first instance we are told of the two famous boons that Das´aratha is said to have once granted to his wife in compensation for her help on the battlefield, but the fulfillment of which she has never, until now, demanded.51 It is this device that the queen, under the influence of her politically savvy maidservant, uses to bring about the exile of Ra¯ma and the suc-


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cession of her own son Bharata. In fact, however, she coerces the infatuated king initially by sulking and withholding her sexual favors, bending him to her will and extorting his compliance before even referring to the two earlier boons.52 But now, some ninety chapters later, Ra¯ma suddenly changes the basis for the debate on truthfulness. He informs Bharata that prior to granting the battlefield boons, indeed at the very time of the marriage arrangements between Das´aratha and Kaikeyı¯’s father, the former had entered into a prenuptial brideprice agreement that guaranteed succession to the throne to Kaikeyı¯’s son (ra¯jyas´ulkam anuttamam).53 This new information sends the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a commentators into a flurry of explanations of why the violation of such a seemingly solemn pledge is not contrary to dharma.54 For it now places Ra¯ma in the difficult position of holding his father true to a vow that he himself appears to have violated in deciding to consecrate Ra¯ma and not the younger Bharata. By this logic, Kaikeyı¯ is using her two battlefield boons only to recover what she had been promised and now stands on the brink of losing through her husband’s fraud. In this the passage may serve to shed some light on at least some early stratum of the Ra¯makatha¯ and provide an all but silent gloss on the theme of Ra¯ma’s hyper-dharmic character as contrasted with Das´aratha’s more flexible and situational approach to what is proper. A second debate between Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯ with implications for the discussion of dharma, gender, and hierarchy takes place near the beginning of the Aranfi yaka¯nfi dfi a. This conversation, which has an interesting resonance with contemporary and often gendered debates over gun control,55 arises when Sı¯ta¯, noting that her husband and brother-in-law are entering the forest heavily armed, lectures him on the evils of unprovoked violence. She observes that of the three kinds of misbehavior born of desire—lying, adultery, and unprovoked violence (vina¯ vairam fi ca raudrata¯)—Ra¯ma is susceptible only to the last. She notes that he has promised the forest sages to kill the predatory ra¯ksfiasas for them, and expresses her fear that the mere presence of his weapons might incite him and Laksfi manfi a to acts of wanton violence against those forest dwellers.56 She makes the interesting point that the availability and the handling of weapons in and of themselves provoke violence, supporting her argument with an anecdote about a peaceful forest ascetic who having been given a sword to guard by Indra, who wished to obstruct his religious practices, became obsessed with it and turned into a violent criminal.57 She urges Ra¯ma to put aside his warrior nature and take fully to the peaceful life of the forest-dwelling sages, noting clearly that she speaks in this fashion from a particularly feminine sensibility (strı¯ca¯pala¯d), which has given her the temerity to lecture him—of all people—about dharma.58 Although Ra¯ma expresses his pleasure at Sı¯ta¯’s gentle and tenderhearted admonition, he rejects its premise on two grounds. The first is that as a prince he is obligated to exercise the protective function of the warrior class in defending the virtuous sages from the violent depredations of the ra¯ksfiasas. The second is his unvarying adherence to the truth of his given word, in the form

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of his earlier vow to defend the forest sages against the predatory ra¯ksfiasas.59 He concludes by stating that he values a promise, particularly a promise made to brahmans, above his own life, his brother, and even Sı¯ta¯ herself.60 As always in the poem, solidarity with the representatives of the patriarchy and adherence to its contractual code are valorized above loyalties to generational and gender subordinates.61 One of the epic’s most protracted and unsettling debates about dharma, and the one in which resistance to Ra¯ma is most forcefully articulated, does not involve any other member of the royal family but is carried on between the hero and a monkey, the monkey (va¯nara) chieftain Va¯li. It takes place between the hero and the dying va¯nara chieftan after the former has struck down the latter from ambush even while he was engaged in single combat with his brother and rival Sugrı¯va. This is one of Ra¯ma’s most controversial and widely debated actions. Criticism of this act, frequently represented as a noteworthy departure from the ksfi atriya code of battle and from Ra¯ma’s otherwise perfect adherence to dharma, is diverse and persistent in a variety of literary and didactic texts, and has been discussed by numerous scholars.62 Its ethical propriety is first raised, however, by Va¯li himself and forms the subject of a lively debate between him and Ra¯ma. In this well-known passage, the stricken monkey king rebukes Ra¯ma for having shot him while he was engaged in battle with a third party. His reproach is a harsh one and includes a number of arguments. Va¯li argues that Ra¯ma has violated the rules of ethical behavior in killing someone who has done him no harm, an offence compounded further by his having done so when his victim was off guard. The monkey further argues that even if Ra¯ma’s action were to be regarded as falling under the rubric of hunting rather than of combat, it would still be wrongful since the skin, bones, flesh, and so on of monkeys is forbidden to people of high caste. He also implies that Ra¯ma is cowardly, boasting that he himself would have proved victorious in a fair fight. Moreover he claims that Ra¯ma is not merely unjust but foolish as well, since had he, Va¯li, been asked, he could have easily defeated Ra¯vanfi a and recovered Sı¯ta¯ for him.63 Although Va¯li’s denunciation of Ra¯ma for what he portrays as vicious and violent conduct is harsh and unsparing, the poet repeatedly describes his speech as “civil and consistent with righteousness.”64 Despite this, Ra¯ma dismisses Va¯li’s seemingly reasoned reproaches, engaging the monkey’s arguments in a lengthy rebuttal.65 His defense, like the accusation of Va¯li, rests on a number of grounds. His basic argument, stated briefly, is that the normal rules of chivalric combat do not apply in the case of Va¯li since he, Ra¯ma, in killing him as the agent of the rightful authority, Bharata, is executing an adulterer, not fighting an honorable enemy. His supplemental arguments, however, are somewhat less convincing and some of them even appear to contradict his principal line of reasoning. Thus, he argues that he had to kill Va¯li since he had promised to do so as part of his agreement with Sugrı¯va, and to fail to follow through would be to commit the cardinal ethical sin of violating one’s given word.66 This is of course the principal leitmotif running through the


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ethical debates that lie at the heart of the poem. Still, it can at best be a subordinate argument in the present context, as it utterly evades the question of the morality of the act itself. Promising to do a wrongful act, one might well argue, would itself be wrong. Ra¯ma further dismisses Va¯li’s grievance on the grounds that the latter is a mere beast to be slain by a hunting king at his pleasure and is therefore not entitled to the benefit of the chivalrous treatment owed to a high-born warrior foe.67 But this line of argumentation appears to be incompatible with the theme of crime and punishment that forms the substance of Ra¯ma’s principal justification of his actions. Clearly Va¯li should either be held to the strict standards of sexual, social, and legal propriety enunciated by Ra¯ma, and thus subject to punishment for violating them, or he is to be treated as a wild animal, utterly outside the range of human morality, to be killed at the whim of a hunter. The two perceptions cannot coexist. Finally, Ra¯ma attempts to stifle even the possibility of debate on the ethical quality of his actions by invoking the divinity of kings and their immunity from censure.68 Surely, this whole episode, including Ra¯ma’s response to Va¯li’s indictment, raises a number of ethical questions, several of which are not addressed either in the text or in the commentaries.69 Nonetheless, it is equally clear that, at least for those who brought the poem to the stage in which it has come down to us, the questions raised by Va¯li are adequately answered by Ra¯ma. This is demonstrated by the monkey king’s wholehearted acceptance of Ra¯ma’s actions, his acknowledgment of his transgression, and his apology for his le`semajeste´.70 In the end, the exoneration of Ra¯ma and testimony to his unwaveringly dharmic nature are placed in the mouth of his victim, while the challenge to the hero’s monopoly on righteousness is decisively rejected. Notice how, once again, when Va¯lmı¯ki wishes to stress some aspect of a disputed area of dharma, he signals this through heavy iteration of the term. “You understand dharma. Therefore, with words consonant with dharma, comfort even me, known to be a flagrant violator of dharma.”71 But the exoneration of Ra¯ma in this case has not been accomplished so easily. Much of the resolution of the ethical dilemma depends not so much on reason and righteousness as on naked assertion of hierarchy, status, and privilege. Va¯li, in his pain and shock, has literally spoken out of turn and, after hearing Ra¯ma’s calm reassertion of the preeminence of social hierarchy, he speaks for the epic, the culture, and himself in stating penitently: yat tvam a¯ttha naras´resfifitha tad evam fi na¯tra sam fi s´ayahfi / prativaktum fi prakrfisfifite hi na¯pakrfisfifitas tu ´saknuya¯t // Best of men, there is no doubt but that what you have said is true. Indeed, a lowly person must never contradict an exalted one. (VR 4.18.41) Thus we see, as before and as in the Dharmas´a¯stras, that dharma is rarely if ever absolute, and the determination of what is right can often depend on the class, status, gender, or even species of the parties to an ethical debate.72

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Let me close this brief survey of the often heated debates on dharma between Ra¯ma and other characters in the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a with a discussion of what I regard as a potentially critical but stifled debate, the last one in the poem and one that—had it been permitted to take place—would have been perhaps the most interesting and controversial of them all. This would have been a discussion between Ra¯ma and his brothers over his decision to repudiate Sı¯ta¯, whom he knows to be innocent of any wrongdoing, and abandon her to her fate in the wilderness. Few episodes in the Ra¯ma story are as deeply controversial, and there are clear reasons for the depth of feeling it evokes. For here is an acknowledged injustice perpetrated by the hero against a character who is not merely of high status but is his own beloved wife, the long-suffering heroine of the poem. Moreover, it is a wrong inflicted on her purely for reasons of political expediency, and with Ra¯ma’s full awareness that she has done nothing to deserve it. Indications of this controversy or at least of an ambivalence of feeling regarding it are—as in the case of the Va¯livadha—to be found in the epic itself. In contrast with the case of Va¯lı¯, however, no one, least of all Sı¯ta¯ herself, is given the opportunity to directly challenge Ra¯ma’s actions here. There are, however, some hints that resistance is, if imperiously suppressed, at least imaginable. In deciding to renounce Sı¯ta¯, Ra¯ma makes it quite clear that he is certain of her innocence.73 Nonetheless, he resolves to repudiate her rather than face the scandal that, as he has now learned through his spies, his taking her back has occasioned.74 In instructing Laksfi manfi a that it is he who is to undertake the actual task of deceiving the pregnant queen with the ruse of a pleasant outing to the countryside, only to cruelly abandon her in the wilderness, it would appear that Ra¯ma anticipates some resistance on the part of his brothers. For he forbids Laksfi manfi a and his two other brothers even to question his decision, warning them that any attempt to argue with him will incur his most severe displeasure.75 Suddenly Ra¯ma, who has permitted and even praised debate, even angry debate, of his most critical ethical decisions, declares his ethically most questionable choice to be beyond discussion and silences any criticism with a thinly veiled threat of violence. This is no doubt because the issue at hand is none other than the very deeply imbedded one of female sexuality and male honor that lies at the heart of the patriarchal culture of the epic and its audiences. The stern imperatives surrounding this matter, however, run counter to the nascent humanism that is generally characteristic of the poem’s ethos. This is not to say that Ra¯ma’s abandonment of Sı¯ta¯ has not been contested in a variety of ways from fairly early times. Indeed, a study of other versions of the Ra¯ma story from at least the early medieval period to the present day shows that other significant authors’ reactions have ranged from outright criticism, as in Bhavabhu¯ti, through reimagination, as in Sagar’s TV serialization; to outright suppression, as in Tulsı¯da¯s’s Ra¯mcaritma¯nas.76 In the case of the repudiation of Sı¯ta¯, it would appear that two of the central thrusts of Va¯lmı¯ki’s Ra¯ma¯yanfi a— the reinforcement of the system of male honor, here closely tied up with the construction of ksfiatriyadharma, and the emerging Vaisfi nfi ava characterization of


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Ra¯ma as a new kind of god-king, a compassionate savior and redeemer who subsumes “his caste-specific dharma under a larger, superordinate dharma”— have come into irreducible conflict.77 In Ra¯ma’s other, earlier debates discussed above, such as those with Laksfi manfi a, Kausalya¯, and Va¯li, Ra¯ma has either argued for the inviolability of the rules of generational, gender, and class hierarchy associated with the culture of varnfi a¯´sramadharma or, as in his debate with Sı¯ta¯ over the propriety of her accompanying him into exile, he has articulated a pu¯rvapaksfia position contrary to those values in order to “test” his opponent’s true feelings. In either case, the debates serve the poet as didactic opportunities though which he can forcefully represent the epic’s social ideology. Even Ra¯ma’s disputed slaying of Va¯li, which has disturbed commentators and readers of the poem to this day, is put to rest, so far as the epic text itself is concerned, by Ra¯ma’s culturally syntonic assertions of his royal juridical function and the absolute deference due a king. In the end, in these matters debate is tolerated and even encouraged as it permits the poet and his hero to forcefully assert the governing principles of the brahmanical social order. The unjust banishment of Sı¯ta¯, however, seems to present Ra¯ma with a genuine dilemma that neither he nor Va¯lmı¯ki can confidently resolve. For the Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a as it has come down to us is a complex document, part Dharmas´a¯stra, part Vaisfi nfi ava tract, part poetic romance, three genres that coexist only up to a certain point.78 That point seems to have been reached with the repudiation of Sı¯ta¯. These three streams of the epic narrative appear to come into irreconcilable conflict here, in its closing scenes. As an exemplary text on dharma, the poem gives Ra¯ma every justification for his harsh treatment of his wife. In the stern culture of masculine honor out of which the poem emerges and for which it is surely the most frequently cited authority, Sı¯ta¯’s abduction and imprisonment at the hands of the notoriously libidinous Ra¯vanfi a is ample justification for treating her as sexually defiled and putting her aside. Moreover, the ability of a king to retain the respect of his people, so critical to the construction of kingship in ancient India, in many ways forces his hand here. Then, too, if Ra¯ma is to be portrayed as the ideal self-controlled and perfectly dharmic sovereign, that portrayal must be made by the use of significant and recurrent counterexamples of monarchs who subordinate ra¯jadharma to the emotional and sensual power of women and so come to grief. Ra¯ma has always before him the fatal flaw of his own father, who allows himself to fall under the power of Kaikeyı¯, while the figures of the sybaritic Sugrı¯va and doomed, lascivious Ra¯vanfi a dominate the central portions of the narrative. So in making the personally devastating decision to banish Sı¯ta¯, Ra¯ma is, on this level at least, only acting out, vaingloriously perhaps, his vision of the perfect king who sacrifices all for the sake of dharma and the stern demands of righteous kingship. Moreover, at the juridical level, Ra¯ma seems to be acting within the limits of the social code that holds the wife to be a kind of property of the husband which may legitimately be disposed of at his discretion.79 Nonetheless, on the theological and literary levels Ra¯ma’s decision is trou-

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bling. Throughout the poem, repeated stress has been placed upon Ra¯ma’s role as a compassionate savior of the troubled, the lowly, and the oppressed. Indeed, the very raison d’eˆtre of this or any avatar is the salvation of the suffering. Moreover, Ra¯ma is constantly represented as quintessentially compassionate and forgiving even to those who have offended him and dharma. Thus, he liberates and purifies the adulterous Ahalya¯, reuniting her with her estranged husband.80 He offers refuge to the fugitive Vibhı¯sfi anfi a against the counsel of his own military advisers.81 And he is even frequently said to be ready to forgive his demonic enemies and even Ra¯vanfi a himself, should they come to him for refuge.82 It is this characterization of the divine hero that lends the Ra¯ma story its power as the foundational text for S´rivaisfi nfi avism, with its profound emphasis on the Lord’s compassion to those who seek refuge (s´aranfi a) at his feet, and indeed for the general portrayal of Ra¯ma as a quintessentially merciful savior throughout Hindu India.83 Thus even had Sı¯ta¯ been guilty of some infidelity, the soteriological logic of the text should have provided the means for her rehabilitation. But in fact, as Ra¯ma knows very well, Sı¯ta¯ has been unwaveringly faithful to him in word, thought, and deed. This has been publicly demonstrated through her fire ordeal in Lan˙ka¯ when, after recovering her, Ra¯ma abuses her and expresses a desire to be rid of her.84 But now, back in Ayodhya¯, Ra¯ma is willing to deceive and abandon her cruelly without a word, merely on the strength of malicious gossip that he knows to be false. It is here that the question of the poem as a kind of romance arises, as well. For throughout the long epic, from the very first book, the tale has been constructed as one of the world’s great love stories. The blossoming of Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯’s love is touchingly described, as is their delight in each other’s company during their long exile, and Ra¯ma’s nearly apocalyptic fury and affecting desolation when she is taken from him. How jarring, then, is his harsh repudiation of her not once but twice in the closing books of the poem. What, finally, are we to make of this? For although a final separation of the lovers in this world may be dictated by a higher-order aesthetic-emotive logic in the form of the karunfi arasa in which the poem and, according to the upodgha¯ta, all poetry is rooted,85 the fact of the separation that proceeds from Ra¯ma’s harsh and questionable sense of political duty goes a long way toward vitiating the mood. This final and most disturbing act of Ra¯ma’s cannot serve, like his others, as a basis for edifying debate precisely because of its failure to meet the criteria for a fully resolvable question within the limits of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a’s discourse on gender, sexuality, and honor. In other words, the “argument” posed by Ra¯ma’s abandonment of Sı¯ta¯ meets with a sufficient degree of implicit structural resistance within the complex edifice of the text that it cannot invite or sustain an explicit critique from any quarter among the epic drama’s cast of characters. Thus, although Va¯lmı¯ki and Ra¯ma clearly understand the controversial nature of the act and its vulnerability to contestation, resistance—even token resistance—is sternly silenced before it can be articulated. It is this inherently self-contradictory quality of Sı¯ta¯’s abandonment in the


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light of the divergent purposes of Va¯lmı¯ki’s poem that, I would argue, accounts for the peculiar wavering of Ra¯ma with regard to his acceptance of his longsuffering wife. At first he is desolate at her loss, vowing not to rest until her has recovered her. But once he has found her and freed her from her cruel captivity he repudiates her, claiming that he had fought to regain only his honor.86 Once Sı¯ta¯ is proven through supernatural means to have been chaste, he announces that his sharp verbal abuse was merely for show and necessary in order to establish objective proof of her innocence.87 Then, for a second time he repudiates her, this time actually banishing her purely as a political expedient. Still, even here, at the very end of the epic narrative he will try to reclaim her yet again on the strength of the infallible testimony of the sage Va¯lmı¯ki himself88. The situation, tragic as it is, has become almost comical in its dramatic reversals, which end only when Ra¯ma summons Sı¯ta¯ yet again for yet one more test of her devotion. This time, however, Sı¯ta¯ seizes the initiative through a final act of truth in order to return to the breast of her mother the earth, leaving Ra¯ma a grief stricken victim of his own vacillation.89 So it appears that in the Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a the most central and emotionally harrowing of the conflicts between patriarchal/political dharma and the inner world of the emotions, between the public and the private spheres, proves to be the only one that is resistant to a satisfactory resolution. For neither the narrative itself nor the medium of dharmic debate that the poet has used so successfully elsewhere is able to resolve the internal contradictions implicit in the construction of Ra¯ma as, on the one hand, an inflexible executor of stern ksfiatriyadharma and, on the other, a compassionate savior and a loving husband. Through the above analysis of selected passages in the Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, I have attempted to demonstrate that in addition to its well-known role as an exemplary narrative, the poem employs a series of complex and carefully structured forensic encounters among its major characters to define and reinforce its vision of the hierarchies of gender, class, and authority. In these debates Ra¯ma plays a decisive role in two ways. He entertains and then refutes arguments that question or resist the normative social dharma of generational, gender, and class hierarchy and/or articulates such resistance himself as a way of “testing” the firmness of his opponent’s adherence to the dominant position. Using the medium of such debates, the poet is able to lend much greater subtlety and depth to an ideology of social order—largely through the instrumentality of the poem in turning to traditional South Asia’s hegemonic discourse on gender and power. Interestingly, however, the one rift in the otherwise seamless fabric of this discourse occurs at precisely the point at which its implications become clearest. In all instances of the conflict between the public and the private, the exemplary hero can effortlessly subordinate the latter to the former and triumph in the debates that bring the issues to the fore. However, when the contradictions between the imperatives of the ksfiatriyadharma and the patriarchal culture of male honor, on the one hand, and those of truth and compassion, on the other, become truly irreconcilable, as in the case of the abandon-

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ment of Sı¯ta¯, the narrative momentum of the poem begins to falter as its forensic exuberance is ruthlessly suppressed. It appears then that Va¯lmı¯ki, who is generally regarded as the virtual poet laureate of brahmanical patriarchy, may have had his own hesitations over an incident that has generated resistance in the literary and social realms from ancient times to the contemporary period. Although both he and Ra¯ma come down nominally on the side of the patriarchy, sacrificing the subordinate feminine to the demands of male honor and political expediency, nonetheless the decision has rested uneasily with the poet, his characters, and his audiences. The very existence of the debates I have examined points to areas of resistance to the dominance of the social vision of the poem, even while these debates try to shore up the foundations of this vision. In the case of the abandonment of Sı¯ta¯, however, the author’s narrative fumbling and the hero’s preemption of debate point to interesting leakages in the otherwise airtight system of brahmanical class, generation, and gender ordination. Although we have long known that the Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a is one of traditional South Asia’s premier instruments for the formation and dissemination of transregional norms of social practice, the precise ways in which the text accomplishes this function certainly invite further investigation. A close reading of the forensic strategies of the poet and his characters, taking them as more than mere set pieces in the narrative flow such as has been attempted here, constitutes one element in this ongoing investigation. notes 1. Just the past decade and a half, for example, has seen the publication of many works such as J. Brockington’s substantial study of both poems, a new translation of the Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a under the direction of Biardeau et al., an annotated translation of the critical edition of the Sundara Ka¯nfi dfi a of the Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, an edited collection of J. Brockington’s papers on the epics, Narang’s edited volume of studies of the Maha¯bha¯rata, two volumes of essays on Ra¯ma¯yanfi as edited by Richman, Bose’s collection of Ra¯ma¯yanfi a studies, M. Brockingon and Schreiner’s collection of papers, and Hiltebeitel’s large study of non-Sanskritic Maha¯bha¯ratas to name but a few. 2. For an illuminating recent discussion of this concept in connection with early Sanskrit literature, see Bailey 2000. 3. Obeyesekere 1990. 4. So important, evidently, is Va¯lmı¯ki’s need to describe minutely the hero as an ego ideal that he places other, similarly detailed catalogues of Ra¯ma’s physical and moral virtues at various points throughout the epic. Cf. VR 2.1.10–29, 2.2.18–34, and VR 5.33.7–20. Unless otherwise indicated, all citations from the VR are from the critical edition (Bhatt and Shah 1960–1977), and all translations are based closely on Goldman et al., in the Princeton edition (1984–). 5. VR 1.1 8–18. 6. VR 1. 1.18–77. 7. VR 1. 2.1–41. See the introduction to Goldman 1984, pp. 71–72. 8. VR 1.17.24–1.21.3. 9. VR 1.17.33–34.


robert p. goldman 10. VR 1.17.38. 11. VR 1.18.3–20.18. 12. VR 1.19.1–25. 13. VR 1.20.2–3. 14. VR 1.20.4. 15. VR 1.20.1–21.6. 16. VR 2.18.13–14.

anurakto’ smi bha¯vena bhra¯taram fi devi tattvatahfi / satyena dhanusfia¯ caiva dattenesfifitena te s´ape // dı¯ptam agnim aranfi yam fi va¯ yadi Ra¯mah praveksyati / pravisfifitam fi tatra ma¯m fi devi tvam fi pur¯vam avadha¯raya // 17. VR 2.18.3–7. 18. VR 2.18.18. 19. VR 2.18.20. 20. See Goldman 1978, pp. 325–92. 21. Taittira¯ya Upanisfiad 1.11. 22. Mahabharata (hereafter Mbh)–2. 23. S´am fi karadigvijayam 5.56–68. 24. VR 2.18.26. 25. VR 2.18.27. On the culture’s use of the cow as a symbol of motherhood, see Goldman 1978, pp. 340, 364–365. 26. VR 1.38–39. 27. Mbh 3.116.1–19; VR 2.18.29. On this last story, see Goldman 1977, pp. 22, 76, 80, 85; Goldman 1978, p. 343; Goldman 1982, p. 118. 28. See Goldman 1978. 29. See Pollock 1986, pp. 15–22. 30. VR 2.19.3–12. See Pollock 1986 on the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a’s discussion of fate and human action (purusfiaka¯ra). 31. VR 2.19.13–22. 32. VR 2.20.1–35. 33. VR 2.20.36. 34. Laksfi manfi a will raise similar arguments and threats at 2.90, when he sees Bharata and his army approaching Ra¯ma’s sylvan retreat. Here too he is chastened by his brother for his expression of belligerence (2.91). 35. VR 2.21.13–14. 36. VR 2.21.24–2.22.20. 37. VR 2.23. 38. VR 2.23–27. 39. VR 2.24.1–4. 40. VR 2.24.5–18. 41. VR 2.25.1–3. 42. VR 2.25.3–14. 43. VR 2.26.2–19. 44. VR 2.26.20. 45. VR 2.27.1–2. For a detailed and groundbreaking contrastive analysis of the characters of these epic heroines regarding their adherence to and divergence from literary and s´a¯stric norms of female conduct, see Sutherland-Goldman 1989, pp. 63– 79. 46. See note on purdah culture, asu¯ryam fi pas´ya¯ of king’s wife Maha¯bha¯fisya on Patan ˜ jali, 3.2.36.

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47. VR 6.102. 48. VR 2.27.6–8. 49. VR 2.27.9–24. 50. VR 2.27.26. 51. VR 2.9.9–15. For a discussion of the problems raised by the clumsy introduction of the boon motif, see Pollock 1986, pp. 25–32. 52. VR–10.25. 53. VR 2.99.3–7 54. See Pollock 1986, pp. 27–28, 507. 55. Cf. the recent “Million Moms March” and the prominence of female legislators in the debate over gun control in America. 56. VR 3.8. 57. VR 3.8.12–19. 58. VR 3.8.29. 59. VR 3.9.17; see VR 3.5. 60. VR 3.9.18:

apy aham fi jı¯vitam fi jahya¯m fi tva¯m fi va¯ sı¯te salaksfimanfi a¯m fi / na tu pratijn˜a¯m fi sam fi s´rutya bra¯hmanfi ebhyo vis´esfiatahfi // 61. Goldman 1980, pp. 160–161. 62. URC V.34. See Masson 1975; and 1980, pp. 95–75. Masson (1980, p. 95) cites a verse found in the vulgate version of the Maha¯bha¯rata [equals critical edition 7.1375*] which compares the infamy of the slaying of Dronfi a by Arjuna to that of Va¯lı¯’s by Ra¯ma:

ciram fi stha¯syati ca¯kı¯rtis trailokye sacara¯care / ra¯me va¯livadha¯d yadvad evam fi dronfi e nipa¯tite // From the killing of Dronfi a will arise the same infamy that Ra¯ma gained from the murder of Va¯lı¯: an infamy that will long endure in the triple world with its moving and unmoving contents. For a thorough discussion of the various moral issues raised by the episode and the various justifications offered by commentators and scholars for Ra¯ma’s actions, see Lefeber 1994, pp. 45–50. 63. VR 4.17.12–45. 64. VR 4.17, 12; 18.1 (pras´ritam, dharmasamhitam). 65. VR 4.18.2–39. 66. VR 4.18.27. 67. VR 4.18.34–36. 68. VR 4.18.37–39. 69. One such question involves the fairness of the judicial procedure through which Ra¯ma finds Va¯lı¯ guilty, condemns him, and puts him to death. In the event, Ra¯ma, purporting to act in the juridical role of the king, executes Va¯lı¯ after hearing only the unsubstantiated charges of a clearly interested party. He makes no effort to determine the facts of the affair, and he permits Va¯lı¯ no opportunity to present his side of the dispute. Sugrı¯va’s story, it should be noted, has a number of inconsistencies, while his own action in usurping Va¯lı¯’s wife and kingdom without making any attempt to verify his suspicion of Va¯lı¯’s death has drawn scholarly attention. See Masson 1975. 70. VR 4.18.40–44.


robert p. goldman 71. VR 4.18.44:

ma¯m apy avagatam fi dharma¯d vyatikra¯ntapuraskrfitam / dharmasam fi hitaya¯ va¯ca¯ dharmajn˜a paripa¯laya // 72. For a fuller discussion of such ethical dilemmas in the epics, see Goldman 1997. 73. At VR 7.44.6–8, he recounts Sı¯ta¯’s vindication by Agni and the other gods in the presence of the rfisfiis, going on to state at VR 7.44.9ab:

antara¯tma¯ ca me vetti sı¯ta¯m fi s´uddha¯m fi yas´asvina¯m / Moreover my own heart knows that glorious Sı¯ta¯ is pure. 74. Addressing his brothers, he states at VR 7.44.13:

apy aham fi jı¯vitam fi jahya¯m fi yusfima¯n va¯ purusfiarsfiabha¯hfi / apava¯dabhaya¯d bhı¯tahfi kim fi punar janaka¯tmaja¯m // For fear of a scandal I would renounce you and even my life itself. How much more easily would I give up the daughter of Janaka. 75. VR 7.44.18:

na ca¯smi prativaktavyahfi sı¯ta¯m fi prati katham fi cana / aprı¯ta¯hfi parama¯ mahyam bhavet tu prativa¯rite // And you must not talk back to me regarding Sı¯ta¯ under any circ*mstances. For, any attempt to dissuade me would incur my most severe displeasure. It is interesting to note that the commentator S´ivasaha¯ya, in his Ra¯ma¯yanfi as´iromanfi i, makes a considerable effort to put Ra¯ma’s warning to Laksfi manfi a in a gentler light, even suggesting that Ra¯ma precludes debate on the grounds that such a discussion would lead to an excess of grief on Laksfi manfi a’s part. This, the commentator claims, makes clear Ra¯ma’s inability to bear his brother’s sorrow. 76. For a discussion of these forms of criticism of Ra¯ma’s treatment of Sı¯ta¯, see Goldman 1997, pp. 199–207. 77. Pollock 1986, p. 69. For a discussion of these issues, see Pollock 1986, pp. 64–73 and 1991, pp. 43–54. 78. On the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a as a kind of romance, see Pollock 1991, pp. 10–14. 79. Cf. Meyer 1971, Hiltebeitel 1999 among others. 80. VR 1.47.30–31; 48.17–21. 81. VR 6.11–13. 82. VR 5.19.18; 6.16, for example. 83. Cf. his typical devotional epithets such as karunfi a¯maya, patitapa¯vana, etc. 84. VR 6.103–104. 85. VR 1.2.14–39. 86. VR 6.103.15–25. 87. This is, of course, a strategy similar to that employed by Duhfi s´anta in the Maha¯bha¯rata’s S´akuntalopa¯khya¯na (Mbh 1.68–69) to bring about the public acceptance of S´akuntala¯ and her child. There, however, one instance of divine testimony is sufficient. 88. VR 7.87.14–20. 89. VR 7.86–89.

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references ¯ ca¯rya, Na¯ra¯yanfi a Ra¯m, ed. 1948. Uttarara¯macarita of Bhavabhu¯ti. Bombay: Nirnfi ayasa¯A gar Press. Bailey, Greg, and Mary Brockington, eds. 2000. Epic Threads: John Brockington on the Sanskrit Epics. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Bhatt, G. H., and U. P. Shah, eds. 1960–1975. The Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a: Critical Edition. 7 vols. Baroda: Oriental Institute, University of Baroda. Biardeau, Madeleine et al., ed. 1999. Le Ra¯ma¯yanfi a de Va¯limı¯ki. Paris: Gallimard. Bose, Mandakranta, ed. 2000. A Varied Optic: Contemporary Studies in the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Vancouver: Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Brockington, John. 1998. The Sanskrit Epics, Handbuch der Orientalistik. Leiden: E. J. Brill. Brockington, Mary, and Peter Schreiner, eds. 1999. Composing a Tradition: Concepts, Techniques, and Relationship. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal. Goldman, Robert P. 1977. Gods, Priests, and Warriors: The Bha¯rgavas of the Maha¯bha¯rata. New York: Columbia University Press. ———. 1978. “Fathers, Sons, and Gurus: Oedipal Conflict in the Sanskrit Epics.” Journal of Indian Philosophy, no. 6: 325–392. ———. 1980. “Ra¯mahfi Sahalaksfi manfi ahfi : Psychological and Literary Aspects of the Composite Hero of Va¯lmı¯ki’s Ra¯ma¯yanfi a.” Journal of Indian Philosophy, no. 8: 11–51. ———. 1982. “Matricide, Renunciation, and Compensation in the Legends of the Two Warrior Heroes of the Sanskrit Epics.” Indologica Taurinensia, 117–31. ———. 1984. The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Va¯lmı¯ki: An Epic of Ancient India. Vol. 1, Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a. Introduction and translation by Robert P. Goldman. Annotation by Robert P. Goldman and Sally J. Sutherland. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ———. 1997. “Esfi a Dharmahfi Sana¯tanahfi : Situational Ethics in the Epic Age.” In Relativism, Suffering, and Beyond: Essays in Memory of Bimal K. Matilal, edited by P. Billimoria and J. N. Mohanty. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Goldman, Robert P., and Sally J. Sutherland Goldman. 1996. The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Va¯lmı¯ki: An Epic of Ancient India. Vol. 5, Sundaraka¯nfi dfi a. Introduction by Robert P. Goldman. Annotation and translation by Robert P. Goldman and Sally J. Sutherland Goldman. Edited by Robert P. Goldman. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Hiltebeitel, Alf. 1999. Rethinking India’s Oral and Classical Epics: Draupadi among Rajputs, Muslims, and Dalits. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Keilhorn, F., ed. 1994. The Vya¯karanfi a Maha¯bha¯fisya of Patan˜jali 3rd ed. revised by K. V. Abhayankar. Pune: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. Lefeber, Rosalind. 1994. The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Va¯lmı¯ki: An Epic of Ancient India. Vol. 4, Kisfikindhya¯ka¯nfi dfi a. Introduction, annotation, and translation by Rosalind Lefeber. Edited by Robert P. Goldman. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Ma¯dhava. S´rimad S´am fi kara Digvijayam. 1985. Translated by K. Padmanabhan. Vol. 1, Viswesvarpuram Alwarpet. Masson, J. L. (Moussaieff ). 1975. “Fratricide among the Monkeys: Pschoanalytic Observations on an Episode in the Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 95: 672–78. ———. 1980. The Oceanic Feeling: The Origins of Religious Sentiment in Ancient India. Studies of Classical India, vol. 3. Dordrecht: Reidel.


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Meyer, John. 1971. Sexual Life in Ancient India. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. Narang, S. P., ed. 1995. Modern Evaluation of the Maha¯bha¯rata. Prof. S. K. Sharma Felicitation Volume. Delhi: Nag Publishers. Obeyesekere, Gananath. 1990. The Work of Culture: Symbolic Transformation in Psychoanalysis and Anthropology. Chicago: Chicago University Press. Pollock, Sheldon. 1986. The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Va¯lmı¯ki: An Epic of Ancient India. Vol. 2, Ayodhya¯ka¯nfi dfi a. Introduction, annotation, and translation by Sheldon Pollock. Edited by Robert P. Goldman. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ———. 1991. The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Va¯lmı¯ki: An Epic of Ancient India. Vol. 3, Aranfi yaka¯nfi dfi a. Introduction, annotation, and translation by Sheldon Pollock. Edited by Robert P. Goldman. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Richman, Paula, ed. 1991. Many Ra¯ma¯yanfi as: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. ———, ed. 2001. Questioning Ra¯ma¯yanfi as: A South Asian Tradition. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Smith, W.L. 1988. Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Traditions in Eastern India: Assam, Bengal, Orissa. Stockholm: Department of Indology, University of Stockholm. Sukthankar, V. S., et. al. ed. 1933–1970. Maha¯bha¯rata: Critical Edition. 24 vols. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. Sutherland-Goldman, Sally J. 1989. “Sı¯ta¯ and Draupadı¯: Aggressive Behavior and Female Role-Models in the Sanskrit Epics.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 109.1: 63–79. Thiel-Horstmann, M., ed. 1991. Ra¯ma¯yanfi a and Ra¯ma¯yanfi as. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrasowitz. ¯ ca¯rya, V. P. Limaye, and R. D. Vadekar, eds. 1958. The Eighteen Principal Vadekar, A Upanishads. Poona: Vaidika Samshodhana Mandala.

2 Gendered Narratives: Gender, Space, and Narrative Structures in Va¯lmı¯ki’s Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a Sally J. Sutherland Goldman

The Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a is generally considered a late addition to Va¯lmı¯ki’s poem. From the earliest scholarship, the book was considered inferior and filled with contradictions.1 This opinion is still held by many scholars and can be seen in Brockington’s own recent discussion on the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a: The basic purpose for the addition of the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a is to provide a curious audience with information on Ra¯ma’s birth, youthful exploits and marriage, while at the same time giving to Ra¯ma the enhanced status that was by then being assigned to him. Some of its incidents are clearly elaborated out of suggestions in the main narrative, while others are purely fanciful, and others again are peripheral to the main story and are closer to Pura¯nfi ic than epic narrative. The Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a has grown from a number of virtually independent episodes over a considerable period of time.2 Brockington is correct in his notion that the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a provides the audience with the details of Ra¯ma’s “birth, youthful exploits, and marriage.” He understands that the book is late, and his use of the word “curious” implies that the audience, already familiar with the “central Ra¯ma story,” desires background information. Whether or not Va¯lmı¯ki’s audience was ever curious is impossible to tell. The issue, of course, is whether or not the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a was only added “later” to fill in the gaps, or whether it is integral to the main story. Moreover, Brockington sees many of the episodes as at best tenu-


sally j. sutherland goldman

ously connected to the main narrative, calling them “Pura¯nfi ic” in style. This term in and of itself is somewhat pejorative here in that the pura¯nfi as are not uncommonly considered to be late and “inferior” collections of heterogeneous matter. The attitude expressed here concerning the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a is often repeated for the Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a, the last book of the epic, whereas the remaining books are normally considered the “main” or “central” books. This paper looks once again at the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a and parts of the Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a, but from a different perspective, one that will attempt to determine some underlying narrative logic(s) for the ka¯nfi dfi a. Rather than assume that the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a is late and made up of only loosely connected stories, the paper will attempt to demonstrate how other considerations, specifically those of gender and space, can be used to examine and understand narrative structure. I will argue that within the books’ narrative, gender and space appear as organizing principals. This logic allows that both the physical space and narrative location in which the various episodes of the book occur are marked by considerations of gender. This marking of space is systematic, intentional, and necessary for the internal logic of the narrative. Moreover, I hope to use these considerations of structure, space, and gender to explain what have been considered narrative “gaps” in the story. The epic of Va¯lmı¯ki, I maintain, is a coherent narrative, carefully structured and rarely allowing a “nod” on the part of the author/ composer. Although the focus of the paper is the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a, the opening sections of the book are part of a larger frame narrative, one that is reintroduced in the closing sections of the last book of the epic, the Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a. Thus, in order to understand the structural rationale of the entire Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a, these sections of the Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a must be looked at, as well. The Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a and the Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a are tied to the larger narrative of the as´vamedha sacrifice of Ra¯ma and to the epic’s own tale of its creation and first recitation.3 The narrative that frames the entire epic, found in sargas 1–4, is that of the creation of the poem by the poet-seer Va¯lmı¯ki. The epic is composed and then taught by the sage to two young men, “sons of kings” who were “in the guise of bards,” named Kus´a and Lava (kus´¯ılavau 1.4.3–4). Later, at the close of the epic in the Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a, the boys will be explicitly identified as the sons of Ra¯ma (7.58.9).4 In the fourth sarga of the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a, these young men are depicted as recounting the tale of Ra¯ma as Va¯lmı¯ki has taught it to them, and are brought by Ra¯ma to “his own dwelling” (1.4.22), where he declares: ´sru¯yata¯m idam a¯khya¯nam anayor devavarcasohfi / vicitra¯rthapadam fi samyagga¯yator madhurasvaram // imau munı¯ pa¯rthivalaksfianfi a¯nvitau kus´ilavau caiva maha¯tapasvinau / mama¯pi tadbhu¯tikaram fi pracaksfiate maha¯nubha¯vam fi caritam fi nibodhata // Let us listen to this tale, whose words and meaning alike are wonderful, as it is sweetly sung by these two godlike men.

gendered narratives


For although these two sages, Kus´a and Lava, are great ascetics, they bear all the marks of kings. Moreover, it is said that the profound tale they tell is highly beneficial, even for me. Listen to it. (1.4.25– 26) The frame then fades into the main story as a story within the story telling the tale of King Das´aratha of Ayodhya¯ (1.5). This framing narrative reemerges in the Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a, starting with Ra¯ma’s ordering of the preparations for the as´vamedha sacrifice at 7.82, and finally fully completing its narrative cycle at sarga 7.85 with Ra¯ma listening, as in the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a, to his own story as recited by his sons, Lava and Kus´a. At 7.85.11ab, the text clearly completes the circle, telling us that the boys recited the story “as it happened, from the beginning, from the sarga in which Na¯rada appears (pravrfittam a¯ditahfi pu¯rvam fi sarga¯n na¯radadars´ana¯t)” (7.85.11ab). Thus my examination of the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a will consist of two parts. In the first I will discuss its frame story, along with parts of the Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a. In the second, I will treat narrative elements and the remaining parts of the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a, up through Ra¯ma’s encounter with Ra¯ma Ja¯madagnya (1.72).

Engendering the Frame The frame itself is inhabited by the masculine; it begins with Va¯lmı¯ki questioning Na¯rada (1.1.1) about a hero—and the subsequent description of the hero—proceeds to the sage’s sight of the Nisfi a¯da killing the male of a pair of mating kraun˜cas, and ends with Ra¯ma’s as´vamedha sacrifice and the events leading to the end of the epic (the division of the kingdom, the visit of Ka¯la, the final journey to the Sarayu¯ River, and the ascension to heaven). The sites and actions of these events can also be marked as masculine: the ashram, the sacrifice, battle, and even the forest.5 However, the feminine inserts itself into the frame in at least two crucial places. During the kraun˜cavadha of the second sarga of the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a, Va¯lmı¯ki watches as the Nisfi a¯da shoots the male of a pair of mating kraun˜cas. The male of the pair is slain, and the sage utters his famous curse: ma¯ nisfia¯da pratisfifitha¯m fi tvam agamahfi s´a¯vs´atı¯hfi sama¯hfi / yat kruan˜camithuna¯d ekam avadhı¯hfi ka¯mamohitam // Since, Nisfi a¯da, you killed one [i.e., the male] of the pair of kraun˜cas, distracted at the height of passion, you shall not live very long. (1.2.14) The verse has been a focus of scholarly attention, in that it is considered the first poetic utterance, a fact commonly commented upon and discussed by scholars.6 The verse proves quite problematic, however. Since these words set in motion one of the tradition’s most famous religious and literary works, the fact that they are inauspicious is disturbing. Moreover, the words do not, as


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the commentarial tradition would like, seem to reflect the central theme of the larger story, where Ra¯ma is bereft of Sı¯ta¯. For here the female is left deprived of her husband in the midst of sexual activity. bha¯rya¯ tu nihatam drfisfifitva¯ rura¯va karunfi a¯m fi giram / Seeing him struck down and writhing on the ground, his wife uttered a piteous cry. (1.2.11cd) The female kraun˜ca is left crying piteously and sexually unfulfilled as the lovemaking has been broken off.7 It is the killing of the male rather than the female that has caused considerable debate among traditional scholars. These scholars are largely in agreement that the passage is symbolic and that the verse’s emotional tenor of pity (karunfi arasa) goes beyond this one event, suggesting instead the theme of the entire poem. For this interpretation to work, some of these scholars have interpreted the text so that the female is the one killed.8 In order to accomplish this, convoluted explanations are contrived. This, according to Masson, is the ¯ nandavardhana and Abhinavagupta, who, reason for the silent “correction” of A without comment, interpret the verse in this way.9 Yet it is clearly and unquestionably the female who is left mourning in Va¯lmı¯ki’s text. The manuscript evidence is incontrovertible. The commentator Govindara¯ja, followed by Kataka, goes against the trend and provides a particularly creative understanding of the verse.10 Like other traditional scholars, he understands the verse to be a ka¯vya¯rthasu¯caka, a verse that hints at the longer poem, suggesting the events of all seven ka¯nfi dfi as. For him, the ma¯ of the verse, normally the negative injunctive “don’t,” refers to Ma¯, or the goddess Laksfi mı¯, and is to be read in compound with nisfia¯da, and understood as S´rı¯niva¯sa, that is, Ra¯ma (the abode of S´rı¯) and the kraun˜camithuna¯t refers to ra¯ksfiasamithuna¯t, that is the lovemaking of the ra¯ksfiasas (Ra¯vanfi a and Mandodarı¯). The verse then is reconfigured to mean, “O Ra¯ma (Ma¯nis´a¯da) since you have killed the male (Ra¯vanfi a) of a pair of mating kraun˜cas, (that is, ra¯ksfiasas, i.e., Ra¯vanfi a and Mandodarı¯) you shall live for a long time!” This interpretation changes the verse from a curse to a benediction, thus allying concerns about the tenor of the utterance. Govindara¯ja continues to explain the verse. Here his reading is telling, for he understands that the curse is not for killing an animal (nanu mrfigapaksfiya¯divadhasya vya¯kuladharmatva¯t katham anupara¯dhinam enam fi munihfi s´aptum arhati), which is well within the dharma of a hunter, but for killing somebody in the act of making love (ratiparavas´ata¯das´a¯ya¯m fi tad vadho dosfia eveti). Govindara¯ja then cites a verse from the Maha¯bha¯rata (1.109.21cd, 12.93.12cd) that asks the rhetorical question: ko hi vidva¯n mrfigam fi hanya¯c carantam fi maithunam fi vane What wise man would kill an animal making love in the forest? This is, of course, a reference to Pa¯nfi dfi u, who has slain a male deer in the act of lovemaking and is cursed for it. My mention of Govindara¯ja’s reading here

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is not a digression. It is true that he has gone to great lengths to reinterpret the text in a manner that is syntonic with his cultural view. He has done so by maintaining that which is essential, and probably most disturbing about the original—the presence of a sexually active (and unfulfilled) female—while at the same time distancing that very sexuality from the epic’s hero and heroine. Govindara¯ja understands that sexuality is a key component of the text. But, if one understands the kraun˜cas as a symbolic of Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯, as do Abhina¯ nandavardhana, that leaves Sı¯ta¯ bereft—a solution unsatisfactory vagupta and A for several reasons. The mere fact that the verse is so disturbing, a fact reflected in the tremendous intellectual energy spent on its reinterpretation, is critical, and that the source of that anxiety is sexuality is telling. For the verse symbolically lets loose upon the epic story, as it were, an uncontrolled—therefore dangerous— sexual female. The female kraun˜ca is, I argue, a harbinger of the sexual threat to be loosed upon the males of the Iksfi va¯ku lineage by various females, particularly Sı¯ta¯.11 The second insertion of the feminine into the frame occurs in the Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a. Here the epic story merges with the frame story as Ra¯ma decides to conduct an as´vamedha sacrifice. Hearing that the two young reciters of the epic tale, Lava and Kus´a, are the sons of Sı¯ta¯ and himself, Ra¯ma decides to call Sı¯ta¯ back so that she might (again) declare her innocence. Ra¯ma announces: s´vahfi prabha¯te tu s´apatham fi maithilı¯ janaka¯tmaja¯ / karotu parisfianmadhye s´odhana¯rtham fi mameha ca // Tomorrow, in the morning, let the lady from Mithila¯, the daughter of Janaka, in the midst of the assembly, take an oath as to her purity, and of mine as well.12 (7.86.6) Sı¯ta¯ has already undertaken one vow and test of her purity and devotion to her lord at the end of the Yuddhaka¯nfi dfi a. There, in the presence of the gods, we see her enter the fire. Since Sı¯ta¯’s purity was demonstrated by the trial by fire, the agniparı¯ksfia¯, then why must it be demonstrated again? A closer look at the passage in its larger structural context will help us understand this second oath of Sı¯ta¯. A messenger is sent off to summon Va¯lmı¯ki and Sı¯ta¯; and the sages, citizens of all types, even the ra¯ksfiasas and va¯naras, assemble to observe. Note that the Yuddhaka¯nfi dfi a’s trial is carried out primarily before the gods, whereas the Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a’s is carried out primarily before creatures of the earth. At 7.86.12–13, Ra¯ma extends an open-ended invitation: tatahfi prahrfisfifitahfi ka¯kutsthahfi s´rutva¯ va¯kyam fi maha¯tmanahfi / rfisfi¯ım fi s tatra sameta¯m fi s´ ca ra¯jn˜as´ caiva¯bhyabha¯fisata // bhagavantahfi sasfiisfiya¯ vai sa¯nuga¯s´ ca nara¯dhipahfi / pas´yantu sı¯ta¯´sapatham fi yas´ caiva¯nyo ’bhika¯nfi ksfiate // Then Ka¯kutstha, having heard those words of the magnanimous one, spoke in delight to the rfisfiis and kings gathered there:


sally j. sutherland goldman Let you, blessed ones, with your disciples, and you kings with your attendants, witness the oath of Sı¯ta¯, as well as anyone else who so desires. (7.86.12–13)

The difference in audience is again crucial in our understanding of the structural logic of having both passages. The Yuddhaka¯nfi dfi a episode provides a nonhuman audience of gods, monkeys, and ra¯ksfiasas, whereas the Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a admits humans. It is important to note that at critical edition 7.87.7 even shudras are included in the list of those who come to witness the event. Moreover, we see the test of Sı¯ta¯’s purity carried out for the “common” man. The change of audience marks the change in location and time. We are back in the frame story, in the world of the audience, rather than in Lan˙ka¯. What happens here is what happens to real people, not to those of the mythic past. At Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a 87, as Sı¯ta¯ follows Va¯lmı¯ki into the assembly, the poet says: ta¯m fi drfisfifitva¯ s´rutim iva¯ya¯ntı¯m fi brahma¯nfi am anuga¯minı¯m / va¯lmı¯kehfi prfisfifithatahfi sı¯ta¯m fi sa¯dhuva¯do maha¯n abhu¯t // Having seen Sı¯ta¯ following behind Va¯lmı¯ki, like the Veda (s´ruti)13 following behind Brahma¯, a great cry of “Excellent!” arose. (7.87.10) The description of Sı¯ta¯ is reminiscent of those found in the Sundaraka¯nfi dfi a, and here her association with the Veda is significant.14 For Sı¯ta¯ will shortly utter her vow of truth and devotion to Ra¯ma, wherein the power of language is understood as all-pervasive. In addition, the passage brings the audience’s attention to focus once again upon the spoken word. But before Sı¯ta¯ is allowed a voice, her purity and devotion to her husband must once again be demonstrated, here by the composer of the epic itself, who reinserts himself into the narrative to declare that his heroine has done no wrong. Va¯lmı¯ki again, as in the kraun˜cavadha episode, is the agency through which the feminine voice is mediated. Unlike the Yuddhaka¯nfi dfi a, here it is first and foremost the word of the sage Va¯lmı¯ki that allows the words of Sı¯ta¯ to be considered sufficient testimony of her purity. This is made clear as Ra¯ma addresses Va¯lmı¯ki: evam etan maha¯bha¯ga yatha¯ vadasi dharmavit / pratyayo hi mama brahmam fi s tava va¯kyair akalmasfiaihfi // O fortunate one who knows dharma, it is as you say. I have faith in (pratyayahfi ) (I am convinced by) your faultless words, O brahman. (7.88.2) Although similar in seeming intent, the contrast between the agniparı¯ksfia¯ at the end of the Yuddhaka¯nfi dfi a and the Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a oath most sharply focuses on audience and the mechanism under which the oath is taken. If we look more closely at these differences, their significance will become more apparent.

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Both episodes center on feminine purity, a purity that can never be assumed nor over-challenged. pratyayo hi pura¯ datto vaidehya¯ surasam fi nidhau / seyam fi lokabhaya¯d brahmann apa¯pety abhija¯nata¯ / parityakta¯ maya¯ sı¯ta¯ tad bhava¯n ksfiantum arhati. // In the past, an oath (pratyayahfi ) was given (taken) by Vaidehı¯ in the presence of the gods. She, O brahman, was acknowledged by me as sinless; but from fear of the citizens, I abandoned Sı¯ta¯. So please forgive me. (7.82.3) The agniparı¯ksfia¯ is certainly the more dramatic and decisive of the two ways of proving one’s virtue. There, after all, the vow was taken in the presence of the gods and validated by Agni himself. The oath, moreover, was accompanied by an act few would be willing to undertake.15 At the end of the trial, however, Sı¯ta¯ remains a sexually viable character, as is demonstrated by her pregnancy in the final ka¯nfi dfi a. What then is the significance of the oath of purity, first uttered by Va¯lmı¯ki and then by Sı¯ta¯, here in the Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a? For one, the agniparı¯ksfia¯ belongs to the Yuddhaka¯nfi dfi a, and serves to demonstrate Sı¯ta¯’s purity within the main epic narrative. In the Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a, on the other hand, the attestation and vow of purity are directed toward the validation of the legitimacy of Lava and Kus´a. This is, of course, intimately linked to the demonstration of Sı¯ta¯’s sexual purity. A dramatic shift is evidenced, however, in the mechanism of the oath. The burden of proof is placed on the validity of Va¯lmı¯ki’s word rather than on the purifying power of divine intervention. As Va¯lmı¯ki utters his oath: na smara¯my anrfitam fi va¯kyam imau tu tava putrakau (GPP 7.96.18cd– 20⫽CE 7.87.17cd) bahuvarsfiasahasra¯nfi i tapas´carya¯ maya¯ krfita¯ nopa¯´srı¯ya¯m fi phalam fi tasya¯ dusfifiteyam fi yadi maithilı¯ / (⫽1358*) manasa¯ karmanfi a¯ va¯ca¯ bhu¯tapu¯rvam fi na kilbisfiam (⫽1359*) tasya¯ham fi phalam as´nfi a¯mi apa¯pa¯ maithilı¯ yadi // (⫽CE7.87.1ab) I do not remember a false word (of mine): these two boys are yours. For many thousands of years, I have practiced austerities. Let me not acquire the fruits of that if Maithilı¯ is tainted. In thought, word, or deed, I have never before sinned. If Maithilı¯ is free from sin, I will obtain the fruits of that. The audience hears first of all Va¯lmı¯ki’s attestation of his own inability to speak a falsehood, then of the male (tava ⫽ ra¯masya) parentage of the twins. Note the structure of Va¯lmı¯ki’s oath as he denies himself the fruits of his ascetic labors if Maithilı¯ is tainted, first as a negative, then as a positive statement. Validation of the reciters of the epic, and their lineage, allows the validation of that which they recite, the epic itself. Thus the scene can be understood within


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the narrative frame to mark the truth of Va¯lmı¯ki’s own epic as chanted by the young boys. That Va¯lmı¯ki reemerges for his final appearance in the epic at this juncture can be understood as the completed symbolic transformation of speech into poetry and of the epic narrative into poetic expression, a process that was initiated within the narrative frame with the kraun˜cavadha and the curse of Va¯lmı¯ki. At this point, Sı¯ta¯ utters her poignant vow of devotion to her husband: yatha¯ham fi ra¯ghava¯d anyam fi manasa¯pi na cintaye / tatha¯ me ma¯dhavı¯ devı¯ vivaram fi da¯tum arhati // manasa¯ karmanfi a¯ va¯ca¯ yatha¯ ra¯mam fi samarcaye / tatha¯ me ma¯dhavı¯ devı¯ vivaram fi da¯tum arhati // yatha¯itat satyam uktam fi me vedmi ra¯ma¯t param fi na ca / tatha¯ me ma¯dhavı¯ devı¯ vivaram fi da¯tum arhati // As I have never thought of a man other than Ra¯ghava, may the earth goddess Ma¯dhavı¯ give me passage (vivaram fi da¯tum fi ). As I have focussed on Ra¯ma in thought, word, and deed, may the earth goddess Ma¯dhavı¯ give me passage. As what I have spoken here is the truth, and I have known no man other than Ra¯ma, may the earth goddess Ma¯dhavı¯ give me passage. (GPP 97.14–16; CE 7.88.10, 1372*) Although the powerful oath and subsequent events are open to numerous readings, for the purposes of this discussion issues of gender and voice are most relevant. The tragic irony of the passage is not lost on the audience. Once again, Sı¯ta¯ passes her test but this time, rather than reunion with her husband, she is reunited with her mother, Ma¯dhavı¯, whom she has called upon. The result then is the end of her own earthly existence (7.88.11–14). Unlike the agniparı¯ksfia¯ episode, where Sı¯ta¯ is permitted to emerge from the fire (in a symbolic sequence of death, rebirth, and purity), here the sexualized feminine is reabsorbed into the archaic mother, the earth, from which she emerged in the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a (1.65.14–15). Thus she no longer poses threat to Ra¯ma or the patriarchy for which he stands. With that threat dissipated, the epic can come to an end. In this respect it is probably no accident that Ra¯ma subsequently undertakes his sacrifices with a golden Sı¯ta¯ (7.89.4), a woman completely molded and controlled, and of absolutely no threat to the male in her absolute incorruptibility. Once Sı¯ta¯ is taken away by her mother, we have closure of the feminine rupture in the text. Note how the symbolism reflects the rupture and its final closure. For we are told of the Goddess Earth emerging from the earth, seated on a throne, borne on the heads of great na¯gas (7.88.11–12). Taking up her daughter in her arms, she retreats to the lower regions (rasa¯tala) (7.88.13– 14). This closure, like the rupture at the opening of the epic, begins with the voice of the female calling out and ends with the suppression, the literal burying, of the feminine voice. Throughout the story the feminine voice is me-

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diated by the masculine (here, Va¯lmı¯ki), and these two episodes provide a symmetry of structure that holds the narrative frame together. Voice and gender thus haunt the frame of the narrative story, providing a cohesiveness and structural unity to the epic story. The two framing episodes of the narrative use the voice of the female to rupture the narrative, mark decisive and structurally related events, and finally provide a space, an opening, symbolic as well as literal, in which the rupture can have closure. It is with this understanding of how space, gender, voice, and rupture function as a carefully constructed matrix in the narrative that we can turn to the events of Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a proper.

The Feminine Face of the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a Given the understanding that the sargas that precede this are integral to the narrative structure of the larger epic, the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a narrative proper can be said to begin at sarga 5 with the description of Ayodhya¯ and the story of Das´aratha’s putresfifiti (rite for bringing forth a son) and as´vamedha (horse sacrifice). The epic itself provides a clear indication that this is a transition, one that functions much like the fade-out and fade-in of the modern cinema (1.4.27). As Jacobi notes, the story begins within the confines of the city of Ayodhya¯ (sargas 5–20), the locus of civilization, moves to the forest (21–48), and then at its conclusion returns to the city, first Mithila¯ (49–72), and then once again Ayodhya¯ (76).16 At both the opening and conclusion, the locus of action occurs within the confines of the city. At both junctures we have rites of passages wherein a female is an essential component—birth and marriage, respectively. In addition to the hero, these rites also include two additional figures of importance: a powerful sage and a dominant male, here a king. Although these figures may appear to be backgrounded at times, they are nevertheless key figures. Thus during the opening segment of the epic we have an as´vamedha cum putresfifiti, the two sacrifices employed to provide the impotent or infertile Das´aratha with a long-desired son; whereas at the end of the Ba¯la we have the wedding ceremony in which all four of his sons take wives. The events in both Ayodhya¯ and Mithila¯ have a significant priest or sage associated with them; moreover, the histories of these figures are told within the epic narrative. The son-producing sacrifices of Das´aratha are conducted by the young sage Rfi s´yas´rfinga, whose own tale is interwoven with and reconfigured to reflect issues central to the larger epic, while the later section relates the well-known struggle of the sage Vis´va¯mitra to become a brahman. The stories or histories of both Rfi s´yas´rfin˙ga and Vis´va¯mitra are often considered to be but loosely connected to the main narrative.17 If, however, we look at the narrative structure of the ka¯nfi dfi a with an eye to issues of gender and sexuality, we can understand that their inclusion is not just logical but even necessary. The story of Rfi s´yas´rfin˙ga is widespread and certainly not original either to the epic or to the solar lineage of the epic’s hero.18 However, the choice of the


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figure of Rfi s´yas´rfin˙ga is significant, and his character integral to the ka¯nfi dfi a’s development. At Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a 8 and 9, the story tells of the kingdom An˙ga, whose king was Romapa¯da. The kingdom, because of a transgression on the part of the king, is suffering from a terrible drought. The king is advised by his ministers that in order to bring an end to the drought the son of Vibha¯nfi dfi aka must be brought from the forest. The counselors are uncertain as to how to accomplish this at first, but then come upon a plan by which prostitutes are to be sent to the forest to seduce Rfi s´yas´rfin˙ga. The scene of the seduction is sweet, and in the Ba¯la somewhat bowdlerized compared to other versions. The young sage is seduced and the rains come. He is brought back to Romapa¯da’s kingdom and marries his daughter S´a¯nta¯.19 It is this sage whom Das´aratha brings to Ayodhya¯ to perform his sacrifice. The scene of the seduction of the sage appears at first to be only tenuously connected with the remainder of the ka¯nfi dfi a. As we will see in the discussion that follows, however, the story is important in a number of ways. After first hearing a brief account of Romapa¯da and Rfi s´yas´rfin˙ga, Das´aratha’s advisors repeat the story in greater detail20 Romapa¯da’s advisors counsel him to bring the young sage by sending out prostitutes to seduce him. They tell the king: rfis´yas´rfin˙go vanacaras tapahfi sva¯dhya¯yne ratahfi / anabhijn˜ahfi sa na¯rı¯nfi a¯m fi visfiaya¯nfi a¯m fi sukhasya ca // indriya¯rthair abhimatair naracittaprama¯thibhihfi / puram a¯na¯yayaisfiya¯mahfi ksfiipram fi ca¯dhyavası¯yata¯m // Rfi s´yas´rfin˙ga is a forest-dweller devoted to austerity and study. He is wholly unacquainted with women and the pleasures of the senses. So we shall bring him to the city with pleasant objects of the senses that agitate the thoughts of men. Let it be arranged at once. (1.9.3–4) The women enter the forest and stay near the ashram: va¯ramukhya¯s tu tacchrutva¯ vanam fi pravivis´ur mahat / a¯s´ramasya¯vidu¯re ’smin yatnam fi kurvanti dars´ane // rfisfiiputrasya dhı¯rasya nityam a¯s´ramava¯sinahfi / pituhfi sa nityasam fi tusfifito na¯ticakra¯ma ca¯s´rama¯t // Upon hearing their instructions, the finest courtesans entered the great forest and stayed near the ashram trying to catch a glimpse of the seer’s steadfast son who always stayed within it. Wholly content with just his father, he had never ventured outside the ashram. (1.9.7–8) Once, however, when the boy’s father left the ashram, the boy came out and the women saw him. Wearing beautiful clothes and singing with sweet voices, all those beautiful young women approached the seer’s son and said these words: kas tvam fi kim fi vartase brahman˜ jn˜a¯tum iccha¯mahe vayam / ekas tvam fi vijane ghore vane carasi s´am fi sa nahfi //

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Who are you? How do you live? Brahman, we wish to know. Tell us, why do you wander alone in this dreadful and deserted forest? (1.9.12) The boy feels “a sudden feeling of love for these women with their desirable bodies and their looks such as he had never before seen (adrfisfifitaru¯pa¯s tena ka¯myaru¯pa¯hfi . . . striyahfi / ha¯rda¯t tasya matir ja¯ta¯)” (13); and responds by telling them about his father and offering them hospitality in his ashram. The women accept and “are filled with longing” (18), but are afraid of Vibha¯nfi dfi aka. They offer him fruits and sweets: asma¯kam api mukhya¯ni phala¯nı¯ma¯ni vai dvija / grfiha¯nfi a prati bhadram fi te bhaksfiayasva ca ma¯ ciram // tatas ta¯s tam fi sama¯lin˙gya sarva¯ harsfiasamanvita¯hfi / modaka¯n pradadus tasmai bhaksfiya¯m fi s´ ca vividha¯n˜ ´subha¯n // We too have excellent fruits, brahman. Bless you. Take some and eat them now. Then they all embraced him joyfully, offering him sweets and various other good things to eat. (1.19.19–20) The next day, the boy again comes to where the woman had been, and meets them. They ask that he accompany them to their ashram, and he agrees. On the way the rain begins to fall. Structurally, we have a number of issues here. The episode is the first time in the story, outside of the kraun˜ca’s cry, that the feminine voice is heard in the text. That this voice is that of courtesans, pleasant and seductive, is notable and, as I hope to demonstrate, no accident on the part of the composer. The women are overtly sexualized figures—professionals, as it were. The story is of the initiation of a young boy into the sexual world. Their presence sets the tone for the remaining encounters with the feminine that the ka¯nfi dfi a will recount. Before the sage can participate in the main story, his own history must be told, and that history is his own encounter with the sexual world. Thus this history of this sage, with its focus on symbolic and real potency and fertility, reflects, I would argue, the larger concerns of the ka¯nfi dfi a and even the main epic story. Romapa¯da, like Das´aratha, is, in effect, impotent or infertile. Romapa¯da’s impotence is marked by the drought his kingdom was suffering, and by the fact that he had only a daughter. Romapa¯da’s impotency/infertility is highlighted in some recensions where S´a¯nta¯ is said to be an adopted daughter whose biological father is Das´aratha.21 In order for King Romapa¯da to become fertile, his daughter must be given to the sage. That the issue is sexual potency is made explicit in the text by the fact that Rfi s´yas´rfin˙ga’s potency is marked conspicuously with a phallic displacement, the small erect horn on his head. Thus, when it is clear that the old, impotent Das´aratha needs assistance to help procure a son, the logical choice is the young, virile, ithyphaliic sage Rfi s´yas´rfin˙ga. Although the potent male is a brahman and the impotent male is a kshatriya, issues of varnfi a are not foregrounded in the episode.


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What’s in a Rite It is only after Rfi s´yas´rfin˙ga is brought to the kingdom of Ayodhya¯ (1.10) and after he had dwelt there for some time that the as´vamedha (1.13) and the putresfifiti (1.14) are performed. The question now arises, why the two rites? Unlike the as´vamedha of Ra¯ma, which is employed for the traditional rationale of securing and demonstrating hegemony over a territory, the as´vamedha of Das´aratha is used at least in part to obtain a son. The use of this sacrifice, normally a sacrifice to sanctify a king’s hegemony, in this context is unusual, and has been commented upon by modern scholars and as well as traditional scholiasts.22 According to P. V. Kane, the rite can function in a variety of ways, including an expiation for the sacrificer of a maha¯pa¯taka, or major sin, such as brahmahatya¯, “murder of a brahman.”23 This is the very purpose that Bhatt assigns to it.24 What is additionally clear, however, is that the sacrifice has a strong fertility element to it.25 After the horse has roamed for a year, the final stages of the sacrifice begin. On the second of the three pressing days, the horse is sacrificed. The animal is bathed and anointed by the chief queen with clarified butter. The horse is ritually slaughtered amid proper recitations, and so on. The wives of the king then circumambulate the horse three times, carrying out a number of ritual actions, including the beating of their left thighs.26 Then the chief queen lies down next to the dead horse and has intercourse with it.27 This is the very act that Kausalya¯ is said to have done at Ra¯ma¯yanfi a 1.13.27. The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a also has the other wives of Das´aratha “unite” with the horse (1.13.28). In the descriptions of the as´vamedha, the priest (the hotrfi) abuses the queen with obscene language, and she responds in kind.28 The actions here are important, since the aspects of sexuality and fertility clearly are foregrounded in the ritual, and it is these very elements that tie the use of the as´vamedha to the concerns of the Ba¯laka¯nfi ddfi a. The second ritual, the putresfifiti, comes in sarga 14, at verse 2, where the text tells us that “In order to procure sons for you, I shall perform the sonproducing sacrifice (Isfifitim fi te ’ham fi karisfiya¯mi putrı¯yam fi putraka¯ranfi a¯t).” This rite is smaller and less imposing than the first, but nevertheless has the same basic function, the procuring of a son. In contrast to the as´vamedha with its thick description, the putresfifiti is only mentioned. No performance details are given. We are told only that Rfi yas´rfin˙ga announces to Das´aratha that in order to procure a son, he must carry out a putresfifiti and that it must be done “in accordance with the injunctions of the ritual texts and rendered efficacious by potent verses set down in the Artharva Veda” (1.14.2). The putresfifiti is mentioned again at 1.15.8. Here we are told that that Visfi nfi u chose King Das´aratha to be his father (1.15.7) at the very moment that Das´aratha was performing the rite (1.15.8). Striking, too, is the nature of the texts used for legitimization of each rite. The as´vamedha draws upon the ritual tradition of the Veda, whereas the putresfifiti specifically calls upon the Atharvaveda, a tradition understood to be later and

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held in somewhat less esteem than those of the Rfi g, Sa¯ma, and Yajur traditions. The texts, as do the rituals they support, have different audiences and functions. The as´vamedha harks to the high brahmanic world of the formal and elaborate sacrifice, whereas the putresfifiti clearly functions as a domestic, practical rite for obtaining a son. Bulcke understands that the putresfifiti is “superfluous,” whereas R. Goldman argues that it is the as´vamedha that is “redundant” and included to demonstrate the “splendor and might of the Kosalan monarchy.”29 In reexamining the structure of the book for issues of gender, however, the rationale for the text’s inclusion of both rites becomes apparent. The as´vamedha sacrifice of Das´aratha is linked to the larger epic frame story of Ra¯ma’s own as´vamedha, and also serves, as R. Goldman has suggested, to solidify and legitimize the Kosalan monarchy. However, the minute, and for the most part accurate, detail of the description of the sacrifice is somewhat unusual, especially the three verses dedicated to the role of the wives (1.13.26–28). I would argue that it is this clearly sexual component that makes the as´vamedha sacrifice of particular interest to the author of the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a, although the other issues are not necessarily unimportant. The as´vamedha, like so many other elements of the text, can be read on various levels. Both rites then must be seen as primarily directed toward the acquisition of a son. Once we can understand the multivalent nature of the as´vamedha in the context of the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a, we can understand why there were two rites. The putresfifiti is the expected domestic rite, but does little to function in terms of the larger narrative of either the ka¯nfi dfi a or the epic. The as´vamedha, as Goldman argues, links us to the larger tradition as well as to the frame narrative. It serves to glorify the brahmanic tradition and firmly establish the Kosalan monarchy among its most ardent defenders. At the same time, the detailed description of the sacrifice brings to the forefront the very sexual world to which the Rfi yas´rfin˙ga episode introduced us and on which the ka¯nfi dfi a will focus. That the sexual activity is legitimized through vedic ritual is perhaps a mechanism that permits larger investigation of the subject.

Beyond the City The two sacrifices have one purpose, to ensure the birth of the epic’s hero. His birth sets in motion the entire epic and sets the stage for the main narrative. The book itself is bracketed by two major life events of the hero: birth and marriage. The ka¯nfi dfi a is called the ba¯la, or “child(hood).” The book, however, spends virtually no time on the actual childhood of Ra¯ma, and rather focuses on the adolescence of the young hero. Unlike the Krfisfi nfi a myth, Va¯lmı¯ki’s narrative allows us scant access to the early childhood of Ra¯ma. Moreover, unlike Sagar, who inserts in his Doordarshan production a charming and, at least in reference to the Va¯lmı¯ki legend, utterly spurious childhood sequence, Va¯lmı¯ki is silent. In his telling, imme-


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diately after the birth of the boys and the rites accompanying their birth (17.6– 12), the four boys appear as young men, over whose marriage Das´aratha is pondering (17 13–22). Just at this juncture, the second important sage figure of the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a is introduced. Vis´va¯mitra suddenly arrives at Das´aratha’s court to seek the king’s aid, or more precisely, his sons’ aid, in fighting ra¯ksfiasas (1.17.23–1.18.18). From this point until the marriage of the sons of Das´aratha at sarga 72, Vis´va¯mitra becomes the central paternal figure in the ka¯nfi dfi a. Das´aratha and the city of Ayodhya¯ are left behind. And for the next fifty-five sargas (approximately 70 percent of the book), the figure of Vis´va¯mitra dominates. Immediately following the marriage, however, Vis´va¯mitra departs and vanishes from the epic narrative for good (1.73) as the book comes to an end. The timing recalls traditional brahmanic period of studentship, or brahma¯carya, with its required guru/s´isfiya relationship. The difficulty with this interpretation is the timing. Normally, studentship starts at an earlier age.30 Moreover, Vis´va¯mitra is to take the brothers for only a short period of time (1.19.17). What then is the purpose of Vis´va¯mitra’s temporary guardianship of Ra¯ma? The pretext of the journey is to defend Vis´va¯mitra’s sacrifice from the depredations of the ra¯ksfiasas. But the journey is, in fact, haunted by a series of figures and episodes that have been considered by many scholars to be only loosely tied to the larger structure. That the stories, such as that of the sons of Sagara and others, reflect larger epic concerns has been discussed elsewhere.31 But here I would propose that beyond reflecting the epic’s themes, they are integral to the development of the character of both the hero and the epic story itself. Within the Vis´va¯mitra narrative, as I will call it here, perhaps the most central event is the Ta¯fitaka¯vadha. Again, as in the frame story, what is striking here is the eruption of the feminine into narrative. Up until the appearance of Ta¯fitaka¯ and the story of her killing at sargas 23–24, the feminine has been admitted to the text but has been minimized and controlled. The as´vamedha sacrifice (1.13.26–27), the drinking of the pa¯yasa (1.16.18–28), and even the birth of the boys 1.17.6–9) downplay the participation of the mothers. Thus, in the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a, the women of Ayodhya¯ (and for that matter Mithila¯) are never given a voice, and references to them are sparse.32 Only the seductive courtesans of the Rfi yas´rfin˙ga episode have been permitted to speak. But with the appearance of Ta¯fitaka¯, the ugly, fearsome, and uncontrollably sexualized feminine appears at its most horrific.33 That a demonic threat exists we have already been told. At 1.18.5, Vis´va¯mitra tells Das´aratha of the demons Ma¯rı¯ca and Suba¯hu. He makes no mention of Ta¯fitaka¯, however. Why is this? Western scholars tend to cite inconsistency and inadequacy of the text. But I have found that Va¯lmı¯ki rarely truly nods.34 Before we can adequately address the question of why Ta¯fitaka¯ is not mentioned, we need to step back and ask why the author introduces the sage Vis´va¯mitra. After all, Ayodhya¯ is filled with eminent sages, including the family purohita, who is no less a figure than Vasisfifitha (1.7.3). What makes this sage narratively so important to the epic at this juncture? In order to understand

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this we need to look at the history of Vis´va¯mitra, an elaborate version of which is provided in the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a itself. This history, like that of the sage Rfi yas´rfin˙ga, is told in a number of places other than the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, and is certainly not original to the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a.35 The choice of Vis´va¯mitra here then is clearly intentional on the part of Va¯lmı¯ki. The story has as its central focus King Vis´va¯mitra’s hostility toward the brahman sage Vasisfi fitha over the wish-fulfilling cow S´abala¯ (1.52–64) and the frustrated king’s struggles to become a brahman.36 The cow, the symbol of all nurturing mothers, is in the possession of Vasisfi fitha. As a king, Vis´va¯mitra covets the cow and tries to take it away from Vasisfi fitha, only to discover that the power of the danfi dfi a-wielding (phallus possessing) brahman is far greater than that of an ordinary weapon-wielding kshatriya. Vis´va¯mitra as the impotent kshatriya in his struggle against Vasisfi fitha the hyperphallic male brahman recalls the configuration at the outset of the epic with Rfi yas´rfin˙ga and Romapa¯da/Das´aratha. Vis´va¯mitra undertakes severe austerities in order to gain especially potent (in fact S´aivite) weapons (the phallus), only to discover that the power of even those weapons is not sufficient to gain the cow/mother.37 Vis´va¯mitra then undertakes still more severe penances in order to become a brahman, the equal of Vasisfi fitha. The sage undergoes a number of tests and adventures until at last he is forced to undergo two final trials. Both these tests focus on sexual seduction. First is the story of Menaka¯ (1.62). The apsaras Menaka¯, sent by the gods, seduces Vis´va¯mitra and distracts him from his austerities. Realizing that his austerities have been compromised, he is filled with regret (62.12). Next is the story of Rambha¯ (1.63). Again the sage undertakes severe austerities. Once again the gods are threatened and send an apsaras (Rambha¯) to seduce him. This time, however, the sage is filled with anger and curses the hapless woman. But despite the control of his sexual desire, the sage’s austerities are compromised since he has not been able to overcome his wrath. The focus of scholarship on this story of Vis´va¯mitra’s history has been normally on the brahman/kshatriya struggle and the changing of one’s class, a feat rarely accomplished elsewhere in the literature.38 These issues are certainly present in the text, but are not, I would argue, central to it in this context. Rather, I suggest that it is Vis´va¯mitra’s struggles with his oedipal anxiety and his own sexuality, and his final victory over them, that tie the story to the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a. Vis´va¯mitra’s well-known sexual exploits make him an ideal choice to indoctrinate the epic’s hero into the world outside of Ayodhya¯, a world fraught with dangers, most importantly sexual threats. Notice that Vis´va¯mitra is a liminal brahman and is treated as such by the “true” brahman, Vasisfi fitha; Vis´va¯mitra’s status is conferred by his ability to overcome his sensual desires rather than by birth or entitlement. His exploits (like those of Rfi yas´rfin˙ga), tell of his own coming of age, his own change of “sexual” or phallic status. Ra¯ma, too, is at a transitional place in his life, neither boy nor man; he is on the cusp of manhood. Das´aratha says of him: “my lotus-eyed Ra¯ma . . . [is] not yet sixteen years of age” (1.19.2). Thus Vis´va¯mitra, a figure who has suc-


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cessfully encountered and overcome his own sexual demons, is a fitting choice to help Ra¯ma conquer his. From the outset of the journey, the audience is left in little doubt that the adventure at hand has sexual underpinnings. As the boys and Vis´va¯mitra leave Ayodhya¯, they cross the Sarayu¯ River, and come upon a holy ashram, the very place where Ka¯ma, the god of love, shot S´iva (Stha¯nfi u) with his arrow and was burned by the great god’s third eye (1.22.11–12). Inhabited now by ascetics of only the fiercest vows, it is marked as a contested locus of sexual activity (1.22.11).39 This is the location where sexuality, personified as the god of love, Ka¯ma, contests asceticism, as practiced by the archetypal ascetic, Mahes´vara. The story is much abbreviated, telling us only that Ka¯ma was burned by the wrath of S´iva (1.22.13). Of Pa¯rvatı¯ we hear nothing in the critical edition. The northern variant only mentions her in the context of her husband’s name, that is, Uma¯pati. Clearly the mention of the incident is not to tell us the story—one that must have been well known to the audience—but to let the reference to the story serve as a symbol. The site marks the exit of the boys from the world of their childhood into the sexual world. Once they pass through the ashram, they are vulnerable to attack from this sexual world. It is at this very juncture that we find the story of the Ta¯fitaka¯vadha. Who is Ta¯fitaka¯, and why does she appear at this point in the Ra¯ma story? Ta¯fitaka¯ is a figure known only to the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a tradition. The critical edition version of the story provides a brief history of her and her son Ma¯rı¯ca. We are told only this: There was a yaksfia named Suketu who had a beautiful daughter named Ta¯fitaka¯. She was given to Sunda in marriage. Ta¯fitaka¯ gave birth to a son named Ma¯rı¯ca (1.24.4–8). The text is somewhat vague at this point. It says: sunde tu nihate ra¯ma agastyam rfisfiisattamam / ta¯fitaka¯ saha putrenfi a pradharsfiayitum icchati // ra¯ksfiasatvam fi bhajasveti ma¯rı¯cam fi vya¯jaha¯ra sahfi / agastyahfi paramakruddhas ta¯fitaka¯m api s´aptava¯n // purusfia¯dı¯ maha¯yaksfi¯ı viru¯pa¯ vikrfita¯nana¯ / idam fi ru¯pam apa¯ha¯ya da¯runfi am fi ru¯pam astu te // After Sunda had been killed, Ra¯ma, Ta¯fitaka¯ and her son tried to attack Agastya, greatest of seers. But Agastya cursed Ma¯rı¯ca, saying, “May you become a ra¯ksfi asa!” and in his towering rage, he cursed Ta¯fitaka¯ as well: “You are now a great yaksfia woman, but you shall be a repulsive man-eater with a hideous face. May you lose your present form and take on a truly dreadful one.” (1.24.9–11) But why did Ta¯fitaka¯ attack Agastya and why did Agastya curse her to be a maneating ra¯ksfiası¯? The critical edition of the Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a has little to say.40 That she becomes a “man-eater” (purusfia¯dı¯) provides a clue. The commentators of the vulgate (1.25.13) understand “man-eater” (purusfia¯di) to refer to Ta¯fitaka¯ after she has become a ra¯ksfiası¯. Thus one commentator, Siromanfi i, glosses, “be a ra¯ksfiası¯ whose nature is to be an eater of men, a purusfia¯di (purusfia¯dı¯purusfiabhaksfianfi ası¯la¯ ra¯ksfiası¯ bhava).” Govindara¯ja, another commentator, glosses “be one

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endowed with the characteristics of a man-eater, etc. (purusfia¯dya¯divis´esfianfi ayukta¯ bhava).” Elsewhere, I have discussed the connection between the eating of men by ra¯ksfiası¯s and libidinal drive, and I would suggest here too that the libidinal underlies the gustatory.41 This is further supported by manuscript evidence from the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a itself. In our notes to the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a on this passage, we provide a version of this episode that would lend support to the idea that the attack on Agastya by Ta¯fitaka¯ has a sexual motivation, and that it is for this sexual transgression that Ta¯fitaka¯ is cursed.42 A number of southern manuscripts hint at it, but in one case, the sexual component is explicit, reading: a¯ya¯ntı¯ saha putrenfi a saka¯s´am fi sa¯ maha¯munehfi / ru¯pam fi drfisfifitva¯ punas tasya manmathasya vas´am fi gata¯ / ta¯dfi ita¯ ka¯maba¯nfi aughaihfi yuvatı¯ sa¯ digambara¯ / ratyartham fi krfitasam fi rambha¯ ga¯yantı¯ sa¯bhyadha¯vata / When she [Ta¯fitaka¯] drew closer to the sage with her son and saw how handsome he was, she was completely overpowered by the god of love. Smitten by swarms of the love-god’s arrows, the young woman took off all her clothes and, wildly eager to make love with him, she ran toward him singing.43 It is with this in mind that Vis´va¯mitra’s insistence that Ta¯fitaka¯ be killed, not just maimed, becomes logical. She is a sexual threat to the brahmanic, and by extension the entire Aryan, world. She is the manifestation of the phallic, archaic mother and must be destroyed.44 Her size, demeanor, and locus all speak to this.45 The story of Ta¯fitaka¯ is of matricide and speaks to the Oedipal fears of the young Ra¯ma. This reading of the episode has been fully discussed by R. Goldman and need not be elaborated here.46 What becomes apparent in light of this discussion is just how the figure of Vis´va¯mitra and his story as well as the episode of the destruction of Ta¯fitaka¯ are integrated, logical components of the epic narrative.

The Journey Once Ta¯fitaka¯ is slain and Vis´va¯mitra has conferred the magical weapons upon Ra¯ma—clear symbols of phallic compensation—Vis´va¯mitra takes the two boys to his ashram, where he performs his sacrifice (1.28–29). During the sacrifice the two sons of Ta¯fitaka¯, Suba¯hu and Ma¯rı¯ca, come to harass the sage. Suba¯hu is killed and Ma¯rı¯ca, who will figure significantly in the Aranfi yaka¯nfi dfi a, is stunned (1.29.14–19). This, of course, is the purpose for which Vis´va¯mitra originally comes to Ayodhya¯. However, the episode only takes up two of the ka¯nfi dfi a’s seventy-six sargas, suggesting that it is more of an excuse than a reason. Rather than returning the boys to their father, their mission accomplished, Vis´va¯mtira tells the boys that they will now all go to Mithila¯ to attend the sacrifice of Janaka and see his “jewel of a bow” (1.30.7). Like the episode of the demoness Ta¯fitaka¯, the journey to Mithila¯ is nowhere mentioned by Vis´va¯mtira


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when he comes to Ayodhya¯. Here again, Vis´va¯mitra leaves out an important piece of information. He makes no mention of Sı¯ta¯ or marriage, or for that matter of any self-choice or bride contest that will eventually take place when he tells the boys of Janaka’s bow and sacrifice. As they travel along, Vis´va¯mitra tells the boys the history of various places, or family lineages, or in some case both. Again these stories appear to be only loosely tied to the epic story with respect to their narrative, but by changing our focus from issues like the brahman/kshatriya struggle to issues of sexuality and gender, we can see how the episodes become logical thematic sequences in the ka¯nfi dfi a. On the first night of their journey to Mithila¯, the party spends the night on the banks of the river S´onfi a¯, where Ra¯ma asks the history of the region (1.30.18, 22). Vis´va¯mitra then tells the story of the daughters of Kus´ana¯bha. The story’s patriarch Kus´ana¯bha is the grandfather of Vis´va¯mitra.47 The story tells of his one hundred daughters, who were cursed by the wind god Va¯yu. The story is a fascinating one, especially in light of the journey to Mithila¯ that the boys are making. One day these young women, who like all epic unmarried heroines, were “youthful, beautiful, and richly ornamented,” resembled lightning in the rains as they went to the park (yauvanas´a¯linyo ru¯pavatyahfi sa¯lam fi krfita¯hfi / udya¯nabhu¯mim a¯gamya pra¯vrfisfi¯ıva s´atahrada¯hfi )” (1.31.10). ga¯yanto nrfityama¯nfi a¯s´ ca va¯dayantyas´ ca ra¯ghava / a¯modam fi paramam fi jagmur vara¯bharanfi abhu¯sfiita¯hfi // atha ta¯s´ ca¯rusarva¯nfi gyo ru¯penfi a¯pratima¯ bhu¯mi / udya¯nabhu¯mim a¯gamya ta¯ra¯ iva ghana¯ntare // Adorned with the most exquisite ornaments, singing, dancing, and playing musical instruments, they enjoyed themselves immensely, Ra¯ghava. Their every limb was beautiful, and indeed, there was no one on earth whose loveliness was like theirs. There in the park they looked like stars shining among the clouds. (1.31.11–12) Va¯yu, the wind god, “who lives in every one” (1.31.1) spies them and desires them. The young women spurn his advances, and mock him, replying: antas´carasi bhu¯ta¯na¯m fi sarvesfia¯m fi tvam fi surottama / prabha¯vajn˜a¯s´ ca te sarva¯hfi kim asma¯nfi avamanyse // kus´ana¯bhasuta¯hfi sarva¯hfi samartha¯s tva¯m fi surottama / stha¯na¯c cya¯vayitum devam fi raksfia¯m astu tapo vayam // ma¯ bhu¯tsa ka¯lo durmedhahfi pitaram fi satyava¯dinam / na¯vamanyasva dharmenfi a svayam fi varam upa¯smahe // pita¯ hi prabhur asma¯kam fi daivatam fi paramanfi hi sahfi / yasya no da¯syati pita¯ sa no bharta¯ bhavisfiyati // Best of gods, you move inside all creatures and know their various powers. How dare you then treat us with disrespect? Best of gods, we are the daughters of Kus´ana¯bha. Any of us could send you top-

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pling from your lofty state, god though you be, did we not prefer to keep the power of our austerities. Fool! May such a thing never happen! We shall never disregard the wishes of our truthful father and choose a husband for ourselves on our own account. For our father is our lord and our supreme divinity. That man alone will be our husband to whom our father gives us! (1.31.16–19) Va¯yu is enraged at the girls’ response, and enters “into everyone of their limbs,” and twists them (1.31.20). Deformed, they returned to their father, who says, kim idam fi kathyata¯hfi putryahfi ko dharmam avamanyate / kubja¯hfi kena krfita¯hfi sarva¯ vesfifitantyo na¯bhibha¯fisatha // What is this? Speak, my daughters. Who has dared to so violate the laws of propriety? Who has turned all of you into hunchbacks? Though you all gesticulate wildly, you do not speak. (1.31.22) Kus´ana¯bha praises his daughters’ forbearance and turns his mind to providing them (still deformed) with a suitable husband. He finds one in the mind-born son of the sage Cu¯lin named Brahmadatta. As soon as Brahmadatta takes the hands of his brides, “all the hundred maidens became radiant with great beauty, free from crookedness, and free from sorrow (vikubja¯ vigatajvara¯hfi / yukta¯hfi parmaya¯ laksfimya¯ babhuhfi kanya¯ ´satahfi tada¯)” (32.23). The story explains both the history of a place and, as we find out in the following sarga, the lineage of Vis´va¯mitra. But the tale is unusual, and clearly speaks to the power of the patriarchy. The episode, it might be argued, is a story of seduction and rape, but such a reading does not conform to the typical scenario of other seduction and rape stories such, for example, as one would see in the rape of Vedavatı¯, who, ruined, commits suicide by immolating herself (7.17). Perhaps the tale can be most simply read as a coming-of-age story. Va¯yu is not only determined to possess the girls but does so despite their protestations. Va¯yu enters the girls and causes their bodies to be abnormal. But his actions do not make the young women ineligible for marriage—anything but. Once the girls have been entered, they become deformed. Deformity, especially possession of a hunchback, marks a phallic transference, and is considered a sign of impurity or evil.48 Finally, when the girls explain what happened to their father, they say: tena pa¯pa¯nubandhena vacanam fi na pratı¯cchata¯ / . . .va¯yuna¯ nihata¯ bhrfis´am // we were sorely afflicted by Va¯yu, who meant us no good and would not heed our words. (1.32.4) As soon as the girls are deformed, Kus´ana¯bha begins to consider a suitable husband for the girls. Once they are given in marriage, their affliction ceases. The appropriate male (note that he is a brahman) functions as a restorative, and the girls once again become whole. Moreover, once in the possession of a


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suitable male/husband, their sexuality is no longer a threat. The story has a strong sexual undercurrent, and the encounter with Va¯yu brings to mind sexual seduction. However, sexual seduction usually does not result in deformity, whereas uncontrolled sexuality is associated with such deformity. Additionally, sexual seduction precludes marriage. Once we understand Va¯yu’s “affliction” to be the onset of sexual viability, that is menarche, which leaves the girls under no male control, the restorative power of Brahmadatta becomes comprehensible.49 But why include a story of marriage and the onset of female sexual viability at this juncture in the narrative? If we understand that Vis´va¯mitra’s intention is to go to Mithila¯ to bring about marriage between Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯, and that the journey is to prepare Ra¯ma for his adulthood, then the story no longer seems incongruous in the context of the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a but becomes integral to its larger purpose. Following upon this story, the seer and the boys travel for another day and come to the banks of the Ganges. There they camp for the night, and Ra¯ma asks Vis´va¯mitra for the history of the river (1.34). Vis´va¯mitra begins by telling of the origin and greatness of the Ganges. Her father was Hima¯laya, who had two daughters, Gan˙ga¯ and Uma¯. In succession we are then told the story of the two daughters of the mountain. Once again, we see the emergence of the feminine into the text. Ra¯ma twice asks about the history of the river Ja¯hnavı¯ (Ganges) (1.35.10, 1.36.2–4), but instead Vis´va¯mitra tells first the story of her younger sister, Pa¯rvatı¯. The story of Uma¯, or Pa¯rvatı¯, is well known from a variety of sources outside of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a,50 and in all likelihood the version here is early, but not original. But why here? Earlier, at sarga 22, the text told us of a holy ashram, the site where S´iva practiced austerities and burned up Ka¯madeva (1.22.15).51 There the episode scrupulously omits any mention of Pa¯rvatı¯. Here, on the other hand, we expect the story of the Ganges, but are told instead a story that is at best only remotely connected to the history of the sacred river and is told in a somewhat selective manner. The story opens with the marriage completed: pura¯ ra¯ma krfitodva¯hahfi s´itikanfi fitho maha¯tapa¯hfi / drfisfifitva¯ ca sprfihaya¯ devı¯m fi maithuna¯yopacakrame // Long ago, Ra¯ma, when the great ascetic, black-throated S´iva, had gotten married, he looked with desire upon the goddess and began to make love to her. (1.35.6) It goes on to tell of the intense lovemaking of the two and the fear born in the gods of the child that would be born from this union. The gods prostrate themselves before S´iva and beg: na loka¯ dha¯rayisfiyanti tava tejahfi surottama / bra¯hmenfi a tapasa¯ yukto devya¯ saha tapas´cara // trailokyahitaka¯ma¯rtham fi tejastejasi dha¯raya / raksfia sarva¯n ima¯m fi l loka¯nfi na¯lokam fi kartum arhasi //

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Best of gods, the worlds cannot contain your sem*n. You should, instead, perform with the goddess the austerities prescribed in the Vedas. For the sake of the three worlds, you must retain your sem*n in your body. You should protect all these worlds, not destroy them. (1.35.10–11) S´iva agrees to the gods’ request but asks what is to be done with the sem*n that “has already been dislodged from its place” (1.46.14). The sem*n is deposited on the earth, whereupon Va¯yu and Agni enter and transform it into a white mountain with a thicket of white reeds.52 It was from here that Ka¯rttikeya comes forth. Pa¯rvatı¯, enraged at being thwarted in her desire to bear a son, curses the gods that they too would be deprived of children. Once again, if we look at the larger narrative structure of the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a and the “Vis´va¯mitra narrative,” the reason for the inclusion and positioning of this episode becomes clear. The story begins after the marriage of the god and goddess, skipping completely their courtship and the burning of Ka¯madeva, briefly alluded to in sarga 22, and instead takes up its narrative with the lovemaking of the divine couple and the birth of Ka¯rttikeya. The omission of the earlier segments of the story is not surprising, if we examine the surrounding context. The story is placed immediately after that of the daughters of Kus´ana¯bha. That episode ended with marriage. Now this next episode begins with marriage and takes up lovemaking, the power of sem*n, and the theme of birth.53 Note how the birth is abnormal; the child is produced from only the male sem*n.54 That these stories follow the Ta¯fitaka¯vadha supports the theory that the Ta¯fitaka¯vadha marks a rite of passage that allows Ra¯ma to enter the sexualized world. For prior to Ra¯ma’s entry into this world, women and sexual issues concerning him are omitted, whereas afterward, the world of feminine sexuality is made manifest. It is only upon the completion of this narrative sequence that the story of the descent of the Ganges is told, an episode that relates to the history of Ra¯ma’s own family. Note that after the story of Kus´ana¯bha’s daughters we had the history of Vis´va¯mitra’s family. Again, the longer narrative combines the history of the place, the Ganges, with the lineage, this time of the Iksfi va¯ku dynasts, beginning with Sagara (1.37–43). The second night of the journey is passed hearing this sequence of episodes. The party sets out the next morning and crosses the Ganges in a boat (1.44.6–8) near the city of Vis´a¯la¯. Ra¯ma once again asks about the history of the region. Vis´va¯mitra then responds with yet another story, that of Diti and Indra. This story, like the earlier ones, is difficult to place within the epic unless one understands that, like those of Kus´ana¯bha and S´iva and Pa¯rvatı¯, the story is included as part of the narrative of Ra¯ma’s coming of age. The story takes us back to the Krfitayuga, when the mighty sons of Diti and Aditi were engaged in an ongoing conflict. They decide to churn the ocean of milk for amrfita, the drink of immortality. The gods and demons churned the ocean, from which arose the apsarases, Va¯ru¯nfi ¯ı Sura¯, the horse Uccaihfi s´ravas, the gem Kaustubha, and finally the amrfita, nectar. In the course of the battle


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that ensued over the nectar, the sons of Diti were slain. The story of the Amrfitamanthana in the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a is quite short, taking up only fourteen s´lokas.55 At this point the story takes a twist and again moves in a direction that is understandable only in the context of the theme of the larger narrative that I have been attempting to trace here. We are told of Diti’s grief upon the death of her sons, and how she undertakes severe austerities in order to gain a son who can destroy Indra in retribution.56 The story is, in a manner of speaking, the inverse of the story of the birth of Ka¯rttikeya. There the role of the mother was omitted; the sem*n of S´iva alone is the source of the child.57 The story here does not acknowledge sexual intercourse at all. Her husband Ma¯rı¯ca Ka¯s´yapa says: evam fi bhavatu bhadram fi te s´ucir bhava tapodhane / janayisfiyasi putram fi tvam fi s´akrahanta¯ram a¯have // pu¯rnfi e varsfiasahasre tu s´ucir yadi bhavisfiyasi / putram fi trailokyahanta¯ram fi mattas tvam fi janayisfiyasi / evam fi uktva¯ maha¯teja¯hfi pa¯nfi ina¯ sa mama¯rja ta¯m / sama¯labhya tatahfi svastı¯ty uktva¯ sa tapase yayau / “Bless you, ascetic woman. Make yourself pure for you shall give birth to a son who can slay S´akra in battle. If you remain pure, then, when a full one thousand years have elapsed, you shall through me give birth to a son capable of destroying the three worlds.” Speaking in this fashion, the mighty man stroked her with his hand. Then, having touched her in this way, he said, “Farewell,” and went off to practice austerities. (1.45.5–7) Diti is to get her son only if she is pure and undertakes austerities for one thousand years. The only physical contact comes with a touch of the hand. In this story, the father and his role is backgrounded. The episode becomes more complex as it locates the site of the action within the womb itself. As Diti is undertaking severe austerities, none other than Indra, a figure known for his amorous adventures, as well as her enemy, attends upon her.58 tapas tasya¯m fi hi kurvantya¯m fi parica¯rya¯m fi caka¯ra ha / sahasra¯ksfio naras´resfifitha paraya¯ gunfi asam fi pada¯ // agnihfi kus´a¯n ka¯fisfitham apahfi phalam fi mu¯lam fi tathaiva ca / nyavedayat sahasra¯ksfio yac ca¯nyad api ka¯n˙ksfiitam // ga¯trasava¯hanais´ caiva s´rama¯panayanais tatha¯ / s´akrahfi sarvesfiu ka¯lesfiu ditim fi paricaca¯ra ha // But, best of men, while she was practicing these austerities, thousandeyed Indra served her most virtuously. For thousand-eyed Indra brought her fire, kus´a grass, firewood, water, fruit, roots, and whatever else she desired. In this way, S´akra served Diti unceasingly, massaging her limbs to lessen her weariness. (1.45.9–11)

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When only ten years remain of the vow, Diti, won over by Indra’s faithful service, tells him not to worry and promises that she will appease her son. She vows that the two will together rule over the three worlds (13–14). Just as she utters this promise, the sun is at its peak and sleep overcomes her. She falls asleep with her head where her feet should be. Indra immediately understands the significance of this: Diti is in an impure state. He takes advantage of the situation: tasya¯hfi s´arı¯ravivaram fi vives´a ca puram fi darahfi / garbham fi ca saptadha¯ ra¯ma bibhedha parama¯tmava¯n // Then Indra, that smasher of citadels, entered the opening in her body and, with complete self-possession, smashed her fetus into seven pieces. (1.45.17) The weapon with which Indra destroys the fetus is the vajra, the symbolic phallus. The fetus cries so loudly that Diti wakes up, and begs Indra not to slay him. “In deference to a mother’s words, S´akra came forth” (20). Indra explains that she had fallen asleep in the wrong position and made herself impure, thereby providing him the opportunity to destroy the fetus who was to destroy him. Diti understands that it was her fault, but wishes that some good might come of the tragedy, and requests, “Let the seven fragments become the guardians of the regions of the seven winds (ma¯ruts)” (1.46.3). Though different in mechanism, the theme of the story is similar to that of the tale of the birth of Ka¯rttikeya: the danger of a too powerful fetus/son. Note that the son of the god S´iva, the child born of the male, is a god himself. If left whole, the son of the female would cause destruction to the gods. The fact that Diti is the mother reinforces this. Note that when her power is diffused, her offspring are no longer a threat, and they too become “gods” (1.46.8), but minor ones, in fact attendants of Indra. The sexual nature of the story makes it ripe for a myriad readings and possible interpretations.59 For the purposes of this discussion, I am most concerned with the fact that it is a story that has sexual context. One can hardly escape the overt sexual nature of Indra’s entry into the womb of Diti at verse 17. All commentators understand s´ariravivaram, “opening in the body” to mean yonivivaram, “vagin*.”60 Somewhat more problematic here is the word parama¯tmava¯n, translated in its common meaning of “self-possessed” following Govindara¯ja, who glosses dhairyava¯n. The intent here, it would seem, is that although the entry was through the sexual organ, the god was in control of his (sexual) emotions. However, other commentators on the vulgate understand the word differently. Siromanfi i glosses atiprayatnas´¯ılahfi , “with a very energetic nature or with great effort,” and Tilaka understands sa¯vadha¯nahfi , “with caution, cautiously.” Govindara¯ja, it would seem, is eager to distance the sexual impropriety of Indra, whereas neither Tilaka nor Siromanfi i feels the need to do so. Regardless of the emotional state of the god, there is little doubt that he penetrates the pregnant womb of Diti. The story of Diti and Indra, although known elsewhere, is not typically


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part of the Amrfitamanthana narrative.61 The story would appear to have little if any connection with the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a, unless we place it within the larger narrative as part of the series of tales told by Vis´va¯mitra to prepare Ra¯ma for his marriage. In this light, the story takes on a structural significance, and its connection with the stories of Kus´ana¯bha’s daughters and of the birth of Ka¯rttikeya is strengthened. That these stories are linked together is further shown by the repetition of the theme—particularly the threat of undesirable or prohibited (sexual) penetration of the female. Thus the daughters of Kus´ana¯bha are propositioned by Va¯yu inappropriately and against their will. Pa¯rvatı¯ is penetrated, but the penetration is interrupted as it poses too great a threat; and Diti is penetrated not by her husband but by Indra, who later in the story is identified as her son— presumably because he has waited upon her as student to a teacher and because he eventually emerges from her womb.62 The sexual aggressor in each story—seducer, husband, student/son—differs in each story, as does intent, but it is clear that the stories are designed to relate to one another through their concern with issues of sexual penetration. Another striking feature of the three stories is the presence of the figure of Va¯yu. In the episode of Kus´ana¯bha’s daughters he is, of course, a major figure, in fact the ultimate “insider.” In both of the other episodes, however, Va¯yu shows up as a figure on the periphery. Thus in the story of the birth of Ka¯rttikeya, we are told, “Then the gods spoke to Agni the eater of oblations, ‘You and Va¯yu must enter Rudra’s abundant sem*n’ ” (1.35.17). Other versions of the story do not admit to Va¯yu’s participation in the creation of the prince.63 Again, in the story of Diti Va¯yu is mentioned as one of the sons of Diti (1.46.5) who will travel through the sky (the Maruts). And of course, the words Marut and Ma¯ruta are names of Va¯yu. Va¯yu’s exact connection here is one that needs to be examined in greater detail, but his appearance is, it appears, intentional, especially in light of the story of the birth of Ka¯rttikeya. Vis´va¯mitra finishes the story of Diti and explains that this spot where Diti performed her austerities is where King Vis´a¯la, an ancestor of Ra¯ma, founded the city of Vis´a¯la¯. In this fashion, Vis´va¯mitra ties the episode back to the journey. The trio spends the night there and one night with King Sumati, who rules in Vis´a¯la¯. They then journey to Mithila¯. On the outskirts of Mithila¯, Ra¯ma once again spies an empty ashram and asks to know its history. As before, Vis´va¯mitra narrates a story: the famous and widespread cautionary tale of Gautama and his wife Ahalya¯, a tale of sexual crime and its punishment.64 Once, Vis´va¯mitra tells Ra¯ma, in Gautama’s absence, Indra took his form and seduced Ahalya¯, telling her: rfituka¯lahfi pratı¯ksfiante na¯rthinahfi susama¯hite / sam fi gamam fi tv aham iccha¯mi tvaya¯ saha sumadhyame // Shapely woman, men filled with desire do not wait for a woman’s fertile period. Fair-waisted woman, I want to make love to you. (1.47.18)

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Ahalya¯ is aware that it is Indra in disguise, but “in her lust” consents to making love with the king of the gods. Satisfied from lovemaking, she urges Indra to leave, and begs him to protect her and himself. Indra departs, but is fearful of Gautama. As Indra is leaving, he encounters Gautama on the path, and the sage, seeing Indra in disguise as himself, curses him: mama ru¯pam fi sama¯stha¯ya krfitava¯n asi durmate / akartavyam idam fi yasma¯dfi viphalas tvam fi bhavisfiyasi // Fool, taking on my form and doing this thing that is not to be done, you shall lose your testicl*s.65 (1.47.26) After cursing Indra, he then curses his wife as well: va¯yubhaksfia¯ nira¯ha¯ra¯ tapyantı¯ bhasmas´a¯yinı¯ / adrfisfiya¯ sarvabhu¯ta¯na¯m a¯s´rame ’smin nivatsyasi // You shall dwell in this ashram with nothing to eat, air your only food (va¯yubhaksfia¯), suffering, lying on ashes, and invisible to all creatures. (1.47.29) She is to remain thus until Ra¯ma arrives to free her from the curse. Indra then addresses Agni (1.48.1), telling him that since he has done the gods a service by robbing Gautama of his ascetic power, the gods should restore his testicl*s. This they do by substituting a ram’s testicl*s for the god’s. Here the story ends, and Ra¯ma, following Vis´va¯mitra into the ashram, sees Ahalya¯ and releases her from her curse. The story is linked to the others through similar thematic concerns. Again it is tale of a sexual encounter, here an illicit one. The consequences for such transgressions are dramatic and clearly serve as a warning. The story, however, differs from those more commonly known from the pura¯nfi ic tradition, wherein Gautama curses Ahalya¯ to “be without flesh and bones” (Padmapura¯nfi a 54.33– 34), or to be ugly (Ra¯m 7.30), or turn to stone (Adhya¯tmara¯ma¯yanfi a 1.6.14). As in the stories discussed above, there is penetration, here in the form of normal, if adulterous, sexual penetration. As in the story of Diti, the penetration is illicit and carried out by Indra.66 Moreover as in the other stories, the figure of Va¯yu appears on the periphery of the episode, for Ahalya¯ is cursed to be va¯yubhaksfia¯, “one [feminine] who eats only va¯yu.” The ingestion of va¯yu harks back to the story of Kus´ana¯bha’s daughters. Additionally, the episodes all reinforce the dangerous and threatening nature of women. The phallic, uncontrolled woman like Ta¯fitaka¯ is to be destroyed, but what of the others—those that live within our own walls, as it were, the young maid, the married woman, the pregnant mother, the adulterous wife? The message is clear: sexuality is pervasive in the adult world, in the control of women, and a threat to the male. Marriage is the culturally normative way to control women, but even within it women pose danger to the male, especially when pregnant or adulterous.


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The story of Ahalya¯ marks the final element of the quartet of tales that Vis´va¯mitra tells to Ra¯ma. Several narrative features mark this episode as the end of the sage’s lessons to Ra¯ma on sexuality. First, of course, is that the trio has now reached the outskirts of Mithila¯, where the contest and marriage are actually to take place. Second, we see that the last ashram through which they travel is that of Gautama. As Vis´va¯mitra and the boys leave Ayodhya¯, the first place they encounter is the ashram of S´iva (ka¯ma¯s´rama) (1.22). Now as they end their journey, the last place they encounter before they arrive in Mithila¯ is also an ashram. This ashram is different in that it is deserted. It is deserted because it has been the site of illicit sexual activity. Only through Ra¯ma’s newly acquired mastery of sexual knowledge can Ahalya¯ be restored to her normal state. It thus makes sense that Ra¯ma, now a fully phallicized male, has sight (ra¯masya dars´anam) (1.48.16) and that Ahalya¯ is once more visible to the world. The male gaze as a marker of the phallus has been discussed in great detail and I need not develop it here.67 The Ahalya¯ episode is the point of transition wherein the narratives told by Vis´va¯mitra and the story of Ra¯ma merge. It is Ra¯ma’s gaze that saves Ahalya¯ from her sexual lapse, and so marks his own passage to manhood. The trio has arrived at Mithila¯ and the wedding of Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯ can take place, not without first, of course, giving the history of the sage that brought them there, Vis´va¯mitra. Once this sequence of stories has finished, Ra¯ma can now master the feminine world. Thus when Vis´va¯mitra next discusses the bow of S´iva, the real purpose of the journey can be voiced. The story of Ahalya¯ also serves as a cautionary tale and harbinger of the larger epic narrative. For, after all, the very crime that Ahalya¯ commits is the one for which Sı¯ta¯ will be falsely accused of and finally, like Ahalya¯, punished. If this is the case, then we can understand why, when Vis´va¯mitra first came to visit Das´aratha, neither the svayam fi vara nor Ta¯fitaka¯ was mentioned. Ra¯ma first needed to undergo an initiation into the sexualized world. Once that is completed, Ra¯ma can break S´iva’s primally phallic bow and thus lay sexual claim to Sı¯ta¯. In this way the middle section of the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a, sargas 22–48—the section that I have called the Vis´va¯mitra narrative—is a clearly and logically developed episode, wherein the sage takes the young boy Ra¯ma, and by default Laksfi manfi a, on a “coming-of-age-tour.” It is during this tour or initiation that the boys are exposed to the sexualized world. Ra¯ma encounters and defeats the sexualized archaic mother, Ta¯fitaka¯, and then encounters through Vis´va¯mitra’s storytelling a myriad destructive, threatening, and dangerous females. From the potential danger of uncontrolled sexuality of the daughters of Kus´ana¯bha to the story of the unfaithful Ahalya¯, an episode that has strong resonances with the epic narrative, the complexities and dangers of the sexual world are made all too clear to the young boy. With the end of Ra¯ma’s journey, the two final events of the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a, the marriage and Ra¯ma Da¯s´arathi’s encounter with Bha¯rgava Ra¯ma, fall into place. Prior to the actual events of the marriage, we have the story of Vis´va¯mitra’s adventures and his own transformation discussed above. That this narrative

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occurs after the party arrives at Mithila¯ (1.49) and before a major rite (1.65) structurally places it in a parallel position to that of the story of Rfi s´yas´rfin˙ga. The trio has come to the outskirts of Mithila¯, the sacrificial grounds of King Janaka (1.49.2–3), where many thousands of brahmans are staying (49.3). Immediately upon their arrival, S´ata¯nanda—the son of Ahalya¯ and Gautama and the family priest of Janaka—and the king welcome them. The sacrifice of Janaka will continue for twelve days (49.15), on one night of which S´ata¯nanda tells the legend of Vis´va¯mitra (1.50.16–1.64.20) to King Janaka, Ra¯ma and Laksfi manfi a, and the assembled crowd (including Vis´va¯mitra). Before the marriage is even mentioned, we have the story of the bow of S´iva. Vis´va¯mitra makes no mention of Sı¯ta¯, only that the young men have come to see the bow of S´iva and, having seen it will return home. Janaka, too, in the course of telling the history of the bow, only briefly mentions Sı¯ta¯, her birth, and how previous kings had tried to win her by lifting the bow (1.65). Even after the history of the bow has been told, there is no mention of Ra¯ma attempting to lift it; he is only to look at it. Here too there is no talk of other kings present; only Janaka’s ministers and the five thousand men required to haul the bow in are mentioned. Ra¯ma, of course, lifts, strings, and breaks the bow, tasya ´sabdo maha¯n a¯sı¯n nirgha¯tasamanihfi svanahfi / bhu¯mikampas´ ca sumaha¯n parvatasyeva dı¯ryatahfi // nipetus´ ca nara¯hfi sarve tena s´abdena mohita¯hfi / varjayitva¯ munivaram fi ra¯ja¯nam fi tau ca ra¯ghavau // There was a tremendous noise loud as of a thunderclap, and a mighty trembling shook the earth, as if a mountain had been torn asunder. Of all those men, only the great sage, the king and the two Ra¯ghavas remained standing; the rest fell, stunned by the noise. (1.66.18–19) Ra¯ma, as is well known, then marries Sı¯ta¯, and his brothers marry her sister ¯ rmila¯ and two cousins, respectively. Two issues are of interest in terms of the U present discussion. The first is the story of Sı¯ta¯’s birth and the second is that of the bow. The episode of the breaking of the bow has been subject to discussion in both the traditional commentaries and in more modern contexts. Such discussion has tended to focus on the religious and ethical aspects of the feat, for example the symbolism of breaking the bow of S´iva or the ethics of letting something left in trust be destroyed.68 Once Ra¯ma has undergone his “initiation” aided by Vis´va¯mitra, he must prove his manhood. This he does by breaking the bow. The bow is a phallic projection of the father; its destruction, a symbol of his overcoming the father. In this context, we must look at the following episode of Ra¯ma Ja¯madagnya, where once again Ra¯ma is challenged to lift and string a bow. This bow is in the possession of the irascible sage Ra¯ma Ja¯madagnya, also an avatar of Visfi nfi u. This episode is seemingly unconnected with the remainder of the epic, and


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has been criticized as such.69 That the battle is one between the two avatars—a transfer of power, as it were—is a probable interpretation, but does not help us understand the episode’s narrative location.70 After the wedding, on the return to Ayodhya¯, Ra¯ma and the entire wedding party, including Das´aratha, Sı¯ta¯, and the rest, observe inauspicious omens. The entire party falls unconscious except for Vasisfi fitha and the other seers, the king, and his sons. They then spy Ra¯ma Ja¯madagnya, also known as Paras´ura¯ma, that is, Ra¯ma with an axe. He approaches Ra¯ma Da¯s´arathi and tells him that he has heard about his wonderful deed of breaking the bow. He challenges Ra¯ma: tad aham fi te balam fi drfisfitva¯ dhanusfio ’sya prapu¯ranfi e / dvandvayuddham fi prada¯sya¯mi vı¯ryas´la¯ghyam idam fi tava // If I see that you have strength enough to put an arrow to this bow, then I shall challenge you to single combat, which is praised by men of might. (1.74.4) Das´aratha tries to intercede for his son: ksfiatrarosfia¯t pras´a¯ntas tvam fi bra¯hmanfi as´ ca maha¯yas´a¯hfi / ba¯la¯na¯m fi mama putra¯nfi a¯m abhayam fi da¯tum arhasi // Your wrath against the kshatriyas has now subsided, and you are a brahman of great renown. Please grant safe passage to my sons, for they are mere boys. (1.74.6) However, bruvaty evam fi das´arathe ja¯madagnyahfi prata¯pava¯n / ana¯drfityaiva tad va¯kyam fi ra¯ma eva¯bhyabha¯fisata // Despite the fact that Das´aratha was speaking in this fashion, the valiant Ja¯madagnya paid no heed to his words, but spoke directly to Ra¯ma. (1.74.10) Ra¯ma Ja¯madagnya then tells of the history of the bows: how Visfi nfi u in a fight with S´iva had unstrung and immobilized the latter’s bow, and how the now impotent bow had been deposited in the care of King Janaka. Ra¯ma Ja¯madagnya then explains the history of the bow of Visfi nfi u and how it came into his possession. Once again he challenges Ra¯ma Da¯s´arathi to single combat (1.74.28). Ra¯ma, “tempering his response out of respect for his father (gaurava¯d yantritakathahfi pituhfi )” (1.75.1), is incensed and says: vı¯ryahı¯nam iva¯s´aktam fi ksfiatradharmenfi a bha¯rgava / avaja¯na¯si me tejahfi pas´ya me ’dya para¯kramam //

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But, Bha¯rgava, you regard me as if I were some weakling, incapable of discharging the duty of a kshatriya. Now you shall witness my strength and valor for yourself. (1.75.3) Ra¯ma then snatches up the bow, strings it, and fixes an arrow to it. Once strung, however, Ra¯ma “for the sake of Vis´va¯mitra,” cannot harm Ra¯ma Ja¯madagnya, because he is a brahman. The arrow, however, must be loosed. He gives the brahman warrior a choice: either his retreat or his worlds, won through austerities, must be destroyed. jadfi¯ıkrfite tada¯ loke ra¯me varadhanurdhare / nirvı¯ryo ja¯madagnyo ’sya ’sau ra¯mo ra¯mam uddaiksfiata // Then as the world stood stunned and Ra¯ma held the great bow, Ra¯ma Ja¯mdagnya, robbed of his strength, stared at Ra¯ma. (1.75.11) Ra¯ma Ja¯mdagnya then begs that Ra¯ma destroy his worlds rather than his retreat. Ra¯ma Ja¯mdagnya returns to his retreat, and the remaining party regains consciousness. Then, with bow in hand, Ra¯ma enters Ayodhya¯ along with the rest, and the ka¯nfi dfi a comes to an end. The episode is a variant of the preceding one, and some of the similarities are striking. Earlier, when Ra¯ma breaks the bow of S´iva the force of the sound of the break stunned all, leaving only the king, the sage, and the two Ra¯ghavas standing (1.66.18–19). In the Ra¯ma Ja¯mdagnya story, only the sages, the king, and the sons remain conscious. During the lifting of the bow of S´iva, Das´aratha was absent; here Das´aratha is literally ignored, and not for the first time. In both episodes, the bow is a phallic projection of a father figure. In the wedding episode the phallic symbol is destroyed. In the Ra¯ma Ja¯mdagnya confrontation, the Oedipal nature of the struggle is more pronounced. The singlehanded combat elsewhere is marked as Oedipal struggle over phallic possessions.71 The bow, however, is not destroyed, but the male figure that possesses it is. Ra¯ma Ja¯mdagnya is now described as nirvı¯ryahfi , “deprived of his virility” (1.75.11). Since his virility was destroyed (hatavı¯ryatva¯t 1.75.12), like the remainder of the world he becomes subject to the conditions of the world, and is becomes jadfi¯ıkrfitahfi , “stunned,”72 as was the entire world at verse 11 above. The younger male comes into possession of the phallic symbol, gaining his newly discovered virility and depriving the older male of his. It is clear that the two passages mark a transition. In the first, however, the phallic image itself is broken. Here the action occurs in the context of the marriage, and the phallus is in possession of the father of the bride. In order for the male to take possession of the woman, he must first render impotent the male who protects her. The second episode symbolically renders impotent Ra¯ma’s own father figure (and namesake). Here, Das´aratha has from the beginning of the ka¯nfi dfi a been marked as impotent; his phallus has been represented in turn by Rfi s´yas´rfin˙ga, Vis´va¯mitra, and Ra¯ma Ja¯madagnya. As we asked above concerning Rfi s´yas´rfin˙ga and Vis´va¯mitra, we can now ask, “Why Ra¯ma Ja¯madagnya?” The story of Ra¯ma Ja¯madagnya is never told in the


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Ra¯ma¯yanfi a; however, he is mentioned several times.73 Vis´va¯mitra and Ra¯ma Ja¯madagnya are distantly related, and that they are both used in this Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a is probably not accidental.74 Ra¯ma Ja¯madagnya is known for two feats: that of killing all of the kshatriyas twenty-one times,75 and for the absolute subservience that he showed his father, to the extent of chopping off his own mother’s head for a sexual transgression. This last act, the one of more relevance for the present discussion, is narrated in the Maha¯bha¯rata and is known to the Ayodhya¯ka¯nfi dfi a (2.18.29).76 The sexual transgression of Renfi uka¯, Ja¯madagnya’s mother, is described in the Maha¯bha¯rata as gazing upon another male with desire: krı¯dfi anatam fi salile drsfifitva¯ sabha¯ram fi padmama¯linam / rfiddhimantam tatas tasya sprfihaya¯ma¯sa renfi uka¯ // Gazing at him, richly endowed and lotus-garlanded, sporting with his wife in the water, Renfi uka¯ desired him. (3.116.7) Now this is significant, for it is Renfi uka¯’s transgression, like Ahayla¯’s, that is the impropriety of which Sı¯ta¯ will be accused.77 Renfi uka¯’s punishment is swift and dramatic. Her husband orders her head chopped off. Now the fact that Ra¯ma Ja¯madagnya is the one who carries out that punishment, in absolute adherence to his father’s words, ties him to Ra¯ma Da¯s´arathi in a profound manner. For the incorporation of this figure at this point in the epic serves to reinforce one of the epic’s most fundamental ethical and social codes and to prepare the audience for what is to come. In just a few sarga’s, Ra¯ma Da¯s´arathi, too, will face his own challenges to do, unquestionably and unhesitatingly, the bidding of his father and ultimately to cope with the question of sexual infidelity. The encounter then serves, among other things, to highlight once again the impotence of Das´aratha, to demonstrate the newly gained manhood of Ra¯ma Da¯s´arathi, and to remind the audience of the cultural imperatives to which our hero must conform. The Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a’s narrative is dominated by the phallic male, represented primarily by the sages Rfi s´yas´rfin˙ga, Vis´va¯mitra, and Bha¯rgava Ra¯ma. The narrative is framed, however, by the two rites, birth and marriage, both of which are associated with the world of women. Nevertheless the feminine in the text is tightly emboxed within the masculine. Thus at both the birth and the marriage the woman is given no voice. Once outside the city, once outside of Das´aratha’s impotent world, Ra¯ma encounters the feminine, but only under the tutelage of the sage Vis´va¯mitra. The women are only given voice when they are represented as sexually unrestrained or dangerous. Ultimately that voice is destroyed or controlled. Thus figures such as Ta¯fitaka¯, the daughters of Kus´ana¯bha, Diti, Ahalya¯ all have a voice, but are all defeated, contained, or silenced. The narrative function of the final encounter between Paras´ura¯ma and Ra¯ma Da¯s´arathi serves as a transition, allowing our hero to return home a man, ready to undertake his duties as the prince regent. He returns in possession not only of a wife—who is still denied a voice—but also of powerful phallic weaponry, which he has mastered.

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Conclusion Both the framing narrative and the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a have in common their masculine landscape. It is a story told of males by males. But the feminine inhabits the text, encased, as it were, by the masculine. Wherever woman is allowed into the narrative, she serves as point of textual rupture, disrupting the narrative, challenging the order. The challenge is, for the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a, primarily a sexual one. Each female that is allowed a voice articulates a sexual threat to the male. The differing placement of the ruptures—the frame, the story of Rfi s´yas´rfin˙ga, the Vis´va¯mitra episode, the narrative told to Ra¯ma by Vis´va¯mitra—each presents the sexually threatening female in different guises. But she is always sexual and she is always dangerous. Those women who are appropriately contained within the masculine world, for example, Sı¯ta¯ (in the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a but not in the Uttara), Kausalya¯, and so forth, are not given voice in the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a. This appears not to be exclusively the case for the other ka¯nfi dfi as, and thus marks the use of the feminine voice as significant to the ka¯nfi dfi a. Thus, here the feminine voice marks male confrontation with the sexual world. These confrontations are intentional, well developed, and interdependent. Far from being a haphazard collection of disjointed episodes and myths, the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a can thus be understood as a carefully constructed and narrated work. Va¯lmı¯ki, as I noted, rarely nods, nor is the popularity of the work among the traditional audiences difficult to understand. It provides an entertaining and yet instructive adventure from adolescence to manhood, and at the same time provides a means for a patriarchal society to articulate a negotiation of sexual anxiety. notes 1. R. Goldman 1984, pp. 60–61; Holtzmann 1841, pp. 36–38. 2. Brockington 1998, pp. 380–381; see also R. Goldman 1984, p. 77. 3. For a detailed and insightful discussion on the prefatory materials of the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a, see R. Goldman 1984, pp. 60–81. 4. All references are taken from the critical edition of the Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a except those marked GPP, that is, the Ra¯ma¯yan of Va¯lmı¯ki published by the Gujarati Printing Press. Translations are based on the critical edition (CE) unless otherwise noted, and are generally taken from the Princeton translation (Goldman 1984). 5. See too, S. Goldman 2001. The gender of the forest is much more nuanced than that of the other sites of actions, for the tradition depicts multiple types of forest: the forest as a locus of sensuality, austerities, dread, delights, and so on. Here we see an intersection of multiple actions. The forest is the locus of both the hunter and the sage, marking it as male. However, the fact that it is the site of the sexual union of the birds marks it as a locus of sexual activity as well. The gendering of sites is also made more complex by the fact that the very gendering of a space allows it to be used as a location in which that very gendering can be contested. For example, in the Bra¯hmanfi as (see for example, S´atapathabra¯hmanfi a–27), the sacrifice, which I would mark as masculine, is the very location marked as the masculine god Yajn ˜ a, “sacrifice,” where Va¯c, the feminine goddess of speech, is seduced; yet in the Upanisfiads,


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the female sexual organ(s) are mapped onto the sacrifice itself. For example, the sexual nature of the ritual sacrifice is reinforced at Brfihada¯ranfi yaka Upanisfiad 6.2.13, where a striking comparison between woman and the soma sacrifice is made. The passage rather explicitly compares a man experiencing a sexual org*sm with the soma sacrifice. The woman’s body, specifically her sexual organs, is mapped onto various aspects of the sacrifice: yosfia¯ va¯ agnir gautama. tasya¯ upastha eva samit. loma¯ni dhu¯mahfi . yonir arcihfi . yad antahfi karoti te ’n˙ga¯ra¯hfi . abhinanda¯ visphulin˙ga¯hfi . tasminn etasminn agnau deva¯ reto juhvati. tasya¯ a¯hutyai purusfiahfi sambhavanti. sa jı¯vati ya¯vaj jı¯vati. atha yada¯ mriyate. . . . The young woman (yosfia¯), Gautama, is the fire. Her sexual organ is the fire stick; her hair, the smoke; her womb (yoni), the flame; when one goes inside, the coals; the excitement, the sparks. Into this fire the gods offer their sem*n. From this offering, a man comes into being. He lives as long as he lives, and then, when he dies. . . . See also S. Goldman 2001. 6. For example, Bhatt 1959, Masson 1969, Vaudeville 1961–1962, R. Goldman 2000b. 7. The scene is voyeuristic, as the sage and presumably the Nisfi a¯da observe the mating kraun˜cas. ¯ nandavardhana in his vrfitti on ka¯raka V, as well as Abhinavagupta in 8. Thus A his comments (in the Locana) understand that it is the female, not the male, that has been killed. See also Masson 1969, p. 209. The Tilakatfi¯ıka¯, a commentary on the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a composed by Na¯gojibhatfifita, understands the kraun˜ca to be a demon, and thus the “curse” of Va¯lmı¯ki is symbolic: “When he said, you killed one (i.e., the male), he meant his word to terminate with this idea ‘just as you caused him to be without his wife, and made his wife be without her lover (na¯yaka) so may you be separated from your beloved wife and may she be separated from you’ ” (Tilakatfi¯ıka¯ on Ra¯m. 1.2.14 GPP). 9. Masson 1969, p. 215. 10. Kataka understands the verse symbolically: “The meaning [of the verse] in the form of the curse uttered by Va¯lmı¯ki to the hunter who killed the bird before his eyes, is quite clear. The deeper [or symbolic] meaning of the verse is this: Va¯lmı¯ki addresses the stanza to Ra¯vanfi a calling him a nisfia¯da because he excessively tormented, i.e., troubled, all the three worlds with their hosts of gods and sages. . . . O tormentor of the three worlds (nisfia¯da), i.e., O Ra¯vanfi a! Since from a pair of kraun˜ca birds, i.e., the pair of Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯, which had been very reduced, i.e., extremely emaciated, because they had been experiencing the sorrows of the loss of their kingdom, banishment to the forest, etc., you killed one in the form of [Sı¯ta¯], that has plunged her into grief greater than the pain of death itself by kidnapping her and imprisoning her in Lan˙ka¯. Therefore you will not any longer enjoy in the city of Lan˙ka¯ that stability, i.e., peace and happiness, which had been vouchsafed to you in the company of your sons and grandsons and servants, etc., by Brahma¯ himself. Thus the stanza hints at the main episode of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, namely, the abduction of Sı¯ta¯ by Ra¯vanfi a and his eventual destruction. And so this stanza, the first verse in Sanskrit, which is the most auspicious thing in all the three worlds, was first (purasta¯t) revealed by the true Goddess Sarasvatı¯” (S´rı¯madva¯lmı¯kira¯ma¯yanfi am 1965–1975). Govindara¯ja, too, provides a long, and somewhat tortuous explanation of the pas-

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sages. Like Kataka, he understands Ra¯vanfi a to be symbolized by the Nisfia¯da, and Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯ the pair of kraun˜cas. “wherein out of the couple of Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯, Ra¯vanfi a killed, i.e., extremely tormented one member, namely Sı¯ta¯, by subjecting her to the excessive pangs of separation and thereby causing them both to become emaciated” (S´rı¯madva¯lmı¯kira¯ma¯yanfi am 1953). 11. The feminine voice is, however, quickly taken and controlled by the masculine. The feminine voice, the piteous cry, karunfi a¯m fi giram—gendered feminine in the original—is heard, and then transformed by Va¯lmı¯ki, the male agent, into s´loka, also gendered male in the language, much as the feminine speech, va¯c, of the vedic seers is revealed to and controlled by the vedic seers (S. Goldman 2001). 12. Tilakatfiika¯ understands that Ra¯ma’s purity refers to the fact that there might be a stain in reference to that purity, in that he might only have a desire for a beautiful woman. 13. Here, I am reading with the vulgate, which understands s´rutim iva, “like s´ruti.” The critical edition reads instead s´rı¯m iva, “like s´rı¯,” even so, in this context s´rı¯ must be read as Veda or Sarasvatı¯. S´rı¯ is not normally associated with Brahma¯, whereas speech, the Vedas, and Sarasvatı¯ are. The word s´rı¯ can mean the three Vedas, speech, and is a name for Sarasvatı¯ (Apte 1957–1959, sv). 14. See S. Goldman 2000a; Sundaraka¯nfi dfi a 5.13.15–36, esp. 30–36; Goldman and Goldman 1996, pp. 154–155. 15. S. Goldman 1997a, 1997b. 16. Jacobi 1893, pp. 74–75; see also R. Goldman 1984, p. 73. 17. Jacobi 1893; Bulcke 1952–1953; R. Goldman 1984. 18. R. Goldman 1984, p. 75. See Maha¯bha¯rata 3.110–113; Padmapura¯nfi a Pa¯ta¯lakhanfi dfi a 13; Bha¯rataman˜jarı¯ 3.758–795; Bhadrakala¯vada¯na 33; Avada¯nakalpalata¯ 65; Alambusa¯ and Nalfianika¯ Ja¯takas, etc. See note on Ra¯ma¯yana 1.8.7 (R. Goldman 1984, pp. 292–293). 19. S´a¯nta¯ in some editions is said to be Das´aratha’s daughter. See R. Goldman 1984, p. 75. See, too, Chatterji 1954. 20. Compare the story and discussion on Uma¯ and Gan˙ga¯ below. 21. Chatterji 1954; R. Goldman 1984, p. 294. 22. R. Goldman 1984, p. 74; Bulcke 1952–1953; Govindaraja on 1.11.12. 23. Kane 1962–1975, 4:91–92. 24. See Bhatt 1960, pp. 331, 334, who argues that the as´vamedha here is merely a means to remove obstacles that were preventing the king from obtaining a son, a notion that the text itself supports (1.13.30). 25. See Jamison 1996, pp. 65–72. It is interesting to note that the wives of the king are allocated to different locations around the horse. The crowned queen is in the front, the favorite queen in the middle, and the discarded queen at the back of the horse; Kane 1962–1975, 2:1,234]. 26. Kane 1962–1975, 2:1,234. The symbolism of the left thigh is meaningful in the sexual context, in that it represents the sexual side. See Sutherland 1989. ¯ pastamba S´atapathabra¯hmanfi a 22.18, 3–4, Ka¯tya¯yana ´srautasu¯tram 20.15–16. 27. A 28. Kane 1962–1975, 2:1,234–1,235. 29. Bulcke 1952–1953, p. 331. R. Goldman 1984, p. 74. 30. According to Kane 1962–1975 2:276, the ideal age for the thread ceremony (upanayana) of a kshatriya is eleven years, with the secondary times being from the ninth to the sixteenth years. The standard period of studentship is thought is have been twelve years (p. 349). 31. Sutherland 1991; R. Goldman 1982.


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32. 1.9.90–27 gives some voice to the courtesans that seduce Rs´yas´rfin ˜ ga. 33. S. Goldman 2000b. 34. S. Goldman 2000a. 35. See note to sarga 52 in R. Goldman 1984. The story is also told at Maha¯bha¯rata 1.164–165. 36. Brown 1964, S. Goldman 2001, R. Goldman 1978. 37. R. Goldman 1978. 38. R. Goldman 1977, 1978; Sukthankar 1937. 39. See R. Goldman 1984, p. 332, for a discussion on the term krfitodva¯ham “prior to his marriage.” The northern rendering of the story makes it clear that the term is used for the marriage of Pa¯rvatı¯ and S´iva ([ka¯mahfi ] a¯vesfifitum abhyaya¯t tu¯rnfi am fi krfitodva¯ham uma¯patim). 40. See R. Goldman 1984, p. 336. 41. S. Goldman 2000b; see also R. Goldman 2000a. 42. Ra¯ma¯yanfi a 1.24.11. 43. See R. Goldman 1984, p. 336. 44. The term “archaic mother” is understood on the basis of Kristeva’s expanded construction of the Freudian oedipal mother—sometimes referred to as the “archaic mother”—as the “fecund mother and the phantasmatic mother who constitutes the abyss which is so crucial in the formation of subjectivity” (Creed 1993 p. 25). It is this abyss that is the “cannibalizing black hole from which all life comes and to which all life returns” and is represented as a source of “deepest terror.” 45. S. Goldman 2000b. 46. R. Goldman 1982. 47. At 1.33.6 we are given the lineage: Kus´ana¯bha, Ga¯dhi, Vis´va¯mitra. 48. Sutherland 1992; Masson 1980, pp. 110–124. 49. The story, it seems to me, is really a story of the onset of menstruation. When Va¯yu enters them, their periods start and the young women are polluted and polluting and considered impure and deformed until the time that they are suitably married, this reflects traditional attitudes toward unmarried girls who have reached puberty. See Jamison 1996, pp. 237–240, on the haste needed in securing husbands ¯ yurvedic for postpubescent females. The connection is further substantiated by the A tradition. There wind is said to be of four types: pra¯nfi a (fore-breath), uda¯na (upbreath), vya¯na (intra-breath), and apa¯na (down-breath). This last type is understood to be the force that causes urine, feces, sem*n, fetus, and menstrual blood to flow downward; see Wujastyk [1998] 2001, p. 165. For additional connections between wind [va¯yu] and menarche, see Carakasam fi hita¯ 1.12.8, 1.1.59, 62; S´a¯rn˙gadharasam fi hita¯ 1.5.25; cf. Sus´rutasam fi hita¯, Nida¯na 1.1–30. Furthermore, wind in the body is associated with countless illnesses and defects; Wujastyk [1998] 2001, pp. 166–173, esp. R. 171. I would like to acknowledge my deep gratitude to Professor R. K. Sharma for these references and his help in establishing these relationships. 50. For example, S´ivapura¯nfi a (Rudrasam fi hita¯) 4.1–2; Maha¯bha¯rata 3.213–216; Matsyapura¯nfi a 146; Va¯manapura¯nfi a 28; Vara¯hapura¯nfi a 25; Kuma¯rasambhava 9–11, etc. See O’Flaherty 1973, pp. 161–168. 51. Note to 1.22.15 (Goldman 1984, p. 332). 52. See too, S´ivapura¯nfi a 2.3.23,12; Skandapura¯nfi a (where Va¯yu ignites Agni, who sets the seed on fire). 53. The frame motif of interrupted lovemaking comes back to haunt us here, and that in both the frame and, here, the interrupter(s) are cursed: the Nisfi a¯da and the

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gods. There, however, the voice of the female is inarticulate, whereas here the curse is voiced by the female. 54. S. Goldman 1996. 55. See Maha¯bha¯rata 1.15ff.; Bha¯gavatapura¯nfi a 8.6–9; Matsyapura¯nfi a 249.51; Visnfi upura¯nfi a 1.9, etc. See Bedekar 1967, pp. 7–61, and Dange 1969, pp. 239–80. fi 56. Skandapura¯nfi a–34. 57. Symbolically, of course, the “earth” Prfithivı¯, substitutes for the mother. 58. See the discussion of the story of Ahalya¯ below. 59. Psychoanalytic/feminist readings of this jump to mind, especially as we are told at 1.46.9 that Indra is Diti’s son. 60. GPP 1.46.18. 61. See Bhatt 1960, p. 453, critical note to sarga 45. See too Kirfel 1947, where he has compared sarga 45 and verses 1–18 of sarga 46 with the Va¯yupura¯nfi a passage at 91.68. 62. “Mother and son” (ma¯ta¯putrau) return to heaven (1.46.9). Also note the S´ukra story where he enters S´iva and emerges as his son, and the Kaca story where a similar theme, with a gender twist, occurs (Mahabharata 12.278.1–38: S´ukra and S´iva; Mahabharata 1.71.1–58: Kaca and S´ukra). See too R. Goldman 1977, pp. 1–27, 60–66; 90–92; 124–127; Sutherland 1979. 63. See S´ivapura¯nfi a–63. 64. Ra¯ma¯yanfi a 7.30; Maha¯bha¯rata 12.329.14; S´atapatha Bra¯hmanfi a;,; Brahmapura¯nfi a 87; Brahmavaivarta 4.47; 61; Padma pura¯na 1.56.15–33; 5.51; Skanda pura¯na 5.3.136–138; 6.207–208; Visfinfi udharmottara pura¯nfi a 65. Tilakatfi¯ıka¯ and Govindara¯ja gloss viphalahfi u as vigatavrfisfianfi ahfi , “of departed testicl*s”; Siromanfi i, vrfisfianfi arahitahfi , “without testicl*s” (GPP 1.48.29). 66. R. Goldman 1978. 67. S. Goldman 1997b. 68. Schoebel 1888; R. Goldman 1982; Gail 1977, pp. 48–56. 69. Sukthankar 1937, p. 20; R. Goldman 1977, p. 115. 70. R. Goldman 1977, 1982. 71. S. Goldman 2000b. 72. Literally, “made cold or frigid,” but also, “dull, paralyzed, motionless, benumbed. stupid, irrational, not able to learn the Vedas, senseless, etc.” See Apte 1957– 1959, s.v. 73. R. Goldman 1977, 1982. 74. R. Goldman 1977, 1982. 75. Sukthankar 1937; R. Goldman 1977. 76. Maha¯bha¯rata 3.115–117. See R. Goldman 1977 pp. 18–25. 77. Maha¯bha¯rata 3.1161–1129; see also R. Goldman 1978.

references Adhya¯tma-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. 1884. With commentary of Ramavarman. Edited by Pandit Jibananda Vidyasagara. Calcutta: Valmiki Press. ¯ nanda¯s´rama Sanskrit Series no. 41. Poona: A ¯ nanda¯s´Agnipura¯nfi am. [1900] 1957. A rama Press. ¯ pastambas´rautasu¯tra. 1955, 1963. With Dhu¯rtasva¯mibha¯sfi ya. Edited by Panfi dfi ita A ¯ chinA naswa¯mı¯ S´a¯strı¯. 2 vols. Baroda: Oriental Institute.


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Apte, V. S. 1957–1959. The Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary. 3 vols. Poona: Prasad Prakashan. Aryan, K. C. 1975. Hanuman. n.p. Bedekar, V. M. 1967. “The Legend of the Churning of the Ocean in the Epics and Pura¯nfi as.” Pura¯nfi am 9.1: 7–61. Bha¯gavatapura¯nfi am. 1965. With thirteen commentaries. Edited by Krfisfi nfi a S´an˙kara S´a¯strı¯. Nadiyad: Krfisfi nfi a S´an˙kara S´a¯strı¯ et al. Bha¯gavatapura¯nfi am. [1983] 1988. With the commentary Bha¯va¯rthabodhinı¯ of Srı¯dhara Sva¯min. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. The Bharataman˜jari of Ksfiemendra. 1989. Edited by Sivadatta and Ka¯sı¯na¯tha Pa¯nfi dfi urang Parab. Ka¯vyama¯la 65. Bombay: Tukaram Javaji. Bhatt, G. H. 1959. “Kraun ˜ cavadha in Dhvanya¯loka and Ka¯vyamı¯ma¯m fi sa¯.” Journal of the Oriental Institute [Baroda] 9: 148–151. Bhatt, G. H., ed. 1960. The Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a: The First Book of the Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yan¯a: The National Epic of India. Baroda: Oriental Institute. Brahma¯nfi dfi apura¯nfi am. 1973. Edited by J. L. Shastri. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. ¯ nanda¯s´rama ¯ nanda¯s´rama Sanskrit Series no. 28. Poona: A Brahmapura¯nfi am. 1895. A Press. Brahmapura¯nfi am. 1987. See Sanskrit Indices and Text of the Brahmapura¯nfi a. ¯ nanda¯s´rama Sanskrit Series no. 102. 4 vols. Poona: A ¯ nanda¯s´Brahmavaivarta. 1935. A rama Press. Brockington, John. 1984. Righteous Ra¯ma: The Evolution of an Epic. Delhi: Oxford University Press. ———. 1998. The Sanskrit Epics. Leiden: E. J. Brill. Brown, W. Norman. 1964. “The Sanctity of the Cow in Hinduism.” Economic Weekly (February), pp. 245–255). Bulcke, Camille. 1952–1953. “The Genesis of the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a.” Journal of the Oriental Institute [Baroda] 2: 327–331. Carakasam fi hita¯. 1976. Text with translation and critical exposition based on Cakra¯ yurvedadı¯pika¯. Vol. 1. Edited and translated by R. K. Sharma and B. Dash. pa¯nfi i’s A Varanasi: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office. Chatterjee, Ashoke. 1954. “The Problem of S´anta¯’s Parentage as Affecting the Text of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a.” Our Heritage, 2.2: 353–374. Creed, Barbara. 1993. The Monstrous Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge. Dange, S. A. 1969. Legends in the Maha¯bha¯rata. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. ¯ nandavardhana. 1891. With the Locana commentary of AbhinavaDhvanya¯loka of A gupta. Edited by Durga¯prasa¯d and Ka¯s´ina¯th Pa¯nfi dfi urang Parab. Bombay: Nirnfi ayasa¯gar Press. Gail, Adalbert. 1977. Paras´ura¯ma: Brahmane und Krieger. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz. The Garudfi amaha¯pura¯nfi am. 1984. Delhi: Nag Publishers. Goldman, Robert P. 1977. Gods, Priests, and Warriors: The Bhrfigus of the Maha¯bha¯rata. New York: Columbia University Press. ———. 1978. “Fathers, Sons, and Gurus: Oedipal Conflict in the Sanskrit Epics.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 6: 325–392. ———. 1980. “Ra¯mahfi Sahalaksfi manfi ahfi : Psychological and Literary Aspects of the Composite Hero of Va¯lmı¯ki’s Ra¯ma¯yanfi a.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 8: 149– 189.

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———. 1982. “Matricide, Renunciation, and Compensation in the Legends of Two Warrior Heroes of the Sanskrit Epics.” Proceedings of the Stockholm Conference Seminar in Indological Studies. Indologica Taurinensia 10: 117–131. ———. 1984. The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Va¯lmı¯ki: An Epic of Ancient India. Vol. 1. Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a. Translation and introduction by Robert P. Goldman. Annotation by Robert P. Goldman and Sally J. Sutherland. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ———. 2000a. “Ra¯vanfi a’s Kitchen: A Testimony of Desire and the Other.” In Questioning Ra¯ma¯yanfi as, edited by Paula Richman. Berkley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, pp. 105–116, 374–376. ———. 2000b. “The Ghost from the Anthill: Va¯lmı¯ki and the Destiny of the Ra¯makatha¯ in South and Southeast Asia.” In A Varied Optic: Contemporary Studies in the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, edited by Mandakranta Bose. Vancouver: Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia, pp. 11–30. Goldman, Robert P., and Sally J. Sutherland Goldman, eds. and trans. 1996. The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Va¯lmı¯ki: An Epic of Ancient India. Vol. 5. Sundaraka¯nfi dfi a. Introduction and annotation by Robert P. Goldman and Sally J. Sutherland Goldman. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Goldman, Sally J. Sutherland. 1996. “Soul Food: Eating, Conception, and Gender in the Literature of Premodern India.” Paper delivered at annual meeting of the Association of Asian Studies, Honolulu, Hawaii, April; a revised version was presented at the annual Conference on South Asia, Madison, Wisconsin, October. ———. 1997a. “Suttee, Satı¯, and Sahagamana: An Epic Misunderstanding.” In Women, Power, and Cultural Difference: Negotiating Gender in South Asia, edited by R. Sharma. Delhi: Indian Books Centre. ———. 1997b. “The Power of the Gaze: Scopophilic Behavior in Sanskrit Narrative.” Paper delivered at “Re-Presenting Women: Workshop on Women in the Literary, Performing, and Visual Arts of India,” University of California at Berkeley, April 25–27. ———. 2000a. “Anklets Away: The Symbolism of Jewelry and Ornamentation in Va¯lmı¯ki’s Ra¯ma¯yanfi a.” In A Varied Optic: Contemprary Studies in the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, edited by Mandakranta Bose, Vancouver: Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia, pp. 125–153. ———. 2000b. “Ra¯ksfi ası¯s and Other Others: The Archaic Mother in Bha¯sa’s Madhyama-vya¯yoga.” Paper delivered at the eleventh World Sanskrit Conference, Turin Italy, April 3–8. ———. 2001. “Speaking Gender: Va¯c and the Vedic Construction of the Feminine.” In Gender, Religion, and Social Definition, edited by Julia Leslie. Delhi: Oxford University Press, pp. 1–27. Holtzmann, Adolf. 1841. Uber den griechischen ursprung des indischen Thierkreises. Karlsruhe: George Holtzmann. Jacobi, Hermann. 1893. Das Ra¯ma¯yanfi a: Geschichte und Inhalt, nebst Concordanz der gedruckten Recensionen. Bonn: Friedrich Cohen. Jamison, Stephanie, W. 1996. Sacrificed Wife, Sacrificer’s Wife: Women, Ritual, and Hospitality in Ancient India. New York: Oxford University Press. Ja¯takas with Commentary. 1877–1897. Edited by, V. Fausboll. 7 vols. London: Tru¨bner Reprint London: Pali Text Society, 1962–1965. Kane, Pandurang V. 1941–1975. History of Dharmas´a¯stra. 8 vols. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.


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Ka¯tya¯yanas´rautasu¯tram. 1990. S´ulbasu¯travrfittihfi sahitam Ka¯tya¯yana-pranfi ¯ıtam; Vidya¯dharas´armanfi a¯ viracitaya¯. Vol. 46. Delhi: Caukhamba Sam fi skrfita Pratisfi fitha¯na. Kirfel, Willibald. 1947. “Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a und Pura¯nfi a: Ein Beitrag zur chronologischen Fixierung des ersten Buches.” Die Welt des Orients, 1: 113–118. The Kuma¯rasambhava of Ka¯lida¯sa. 1886. With the commentary (the San˜jı¯vinı¯) of Mallina¯tha (1–8 sargas) and of Sı¯ta¯ra¯ma (8–17 sargas). Edited by Na¯ra¯yanfi a Bhatfifita Parvanfi ¯ıkara and Ka¯s´¯ına¯tha Pa¯nfi dfi urang Parab. Bombay: Nirnfi ayasa¯gara Press. Maha¯bha¯rata. 1929. With the commentary of Nı¯lakanfi fitha. 6 vols. Poona: Chitrashala Press. Maha¯bha¯rata: Critical Edition. 1933–1970. With Harivam fi s´a (1969–1971). Critically edited by V. S. Sukthankar et al. 24 vols. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. Masson, Jeffrey. 1969. “Who Killed co*ck Kraun ˜ ca? Abhinavagupta’s Reflections on the Origin of Aesthetic Experience.” Journal of the Oriental Institute [Baroda] 18: 207–224. ———. 1980. The Oceanic Feeling: The Origins of Religious Sentiment in Ancient India. Studies of Classical India 3. Dordrecht: Reidel. ¯ nanda¯s´rama Sanskrit Series, Matsyapura¯nfi am. 1907. Edited by Hari Narayana Apte. A ¯ nanda¯s´rama Press. 54. Poona: A O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger. 1973. S´iva: The Erotic Ascetic. London: Oxford University Press. ¯ nanda¯s´rama Padmapura¯nfi am. 1893–1894. Edited by Vis´vana¯tha Na¯ra¯yanfi a Manfi dfi alik. A ¯ nanda¯s´rama Press. Sanskrit Series 131. 4 vols. Poona: A Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. 1928–1947. Northwestern recension critically edited for the first time from original manuscripts by Vishva Bandhu. 7 vols. D.A.V. College Sanskrit Series 7, 12, 14, 17–20. Lahore: D.A.V. College. Ra¯ma¯yanfi of Va¯lmı¯ki. 1914–1920. With three commentaries called Tilaka, Shiromani, and Bhooshana. Edited by Shastri Shrinivasa Katti Mudholkar. 7 vols. Bombay: Gujarati Printing Press. Sanskrit Indices and Text of the Brahmapura¯nfi a. 1987. Edited by Peter Schreiner and Renate So¨hnen. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz. S´a¯rn˙gadharasam fi hita¯. 1983. Edited by Panfi dit Paras´ura¯ma S´a¯strı¯. Varanasi: Chaukhamba Orientalia. S´atapatha Bra¯hmanfi am. 1940. With Sa¯yanfi a’s commentary. 5 vols. Bombay: Laxmi Venkateshwar Steam Press. Schoebel, Charles. 1888. Le Ra¯mayanfi a au point du vu religieux, philosphique et moral. Paris: Guimet. S´ivapura¯nfi am. 1906. Bombay: Ven˙katfies´vara Press. S´rı¯madva¯lmı¯kira¯ma¯yanfi am. 1953. Edited by Gan˙ga¯visfi nfi u S´rı¯krfisfi nfi ada¯sa. With the commentaries of Govindara¯ja, Ra¯ma¯nuja, and Mahes´varatı¯rtha and the commentary known as Tanfi is´lokı¯. 3 vols. Bombay: Laksfi mı¯ven˙katfies´vara Mudranfi a¯laya. S´rı¯madva¯lmı¯kira¯ma¯yanfi am. 1965–1975. Edited by K. S. Varadacharya, et al. With Amrfitakataka of Ma¯dhavayogi. 5 vols. Mysore: University of Mysore. Skandapura¯nfi a Su¯tasam fi hita¯. 1954. Madras: Balamanorama Press. Sukthankar, V. S. 1937. “The Bhrfigus and the Bharata: A Text-Historical Study.” Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute 18: 1–76. Sus´rutasam fi hita¯. 1963. Vols. 1 and 2. Chowkhamba Sanskrit Studies, 30. Edited and translated by Kavira¯ja Kunjalal Bhisfi gaaratna. Varanasi: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office.

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Sus´rutasam fi hita¯. 1980. Varanasi: Caukhambha Oriyantaliya. Anya Pra¯ptistha¯na, Cau¯ yurveda Granthama¯la¯ 34. khambha Sam fi skrfita Sam fi stha¯na Series, Jayakrfisfi nfi ada¯sa A The Sus´rutasam fi hita¯ of Sus´ruta with various readings, notes and appendix, etc. 1945. Edited by Narayan Ram Acharya, with Vaidya. Bombay: Nirnaya Sagar Press. Sus´rutasam fi hita¯ Nida¯nastha¯nam. 1977. New Delhi: Meharacandra Lachamandas. Sutherland, Sally J. 1979. “S´ukra¯ca¯rya: The Demons’ Priest: Aspects of Character Development in Sanskrit Mythological Literature. Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley. ———. 1989. “Draupadı¯ and Sı¯ta¯: Aggressive Behavior and Female Role-Models.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 109.1: 63–79. ———. 1991. “The Bad Seed: Senior Wives and Elder Sons.” In Bridging Worlds: Studies on Women in South Asia, edited by S. J. Sutherland. Berkeley: Centers for South and Southeast Asia Studies, International and Area Studies. pp. 24–52. ———. 1992. “Seduction and Counter-Seduction: Bedroom Politics in the Ancient Epics.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 20: 243–251. The Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a: Critical Edition. 1960–1975. General editors, G. H. Bhatt and U. P. Shah. 7 vols. Baroda: Oriental Institute. Va¯manapura¯nfi am. 1967. Edited by Anand Swarup Gupta. Varanasi: All-India Kashiraj Trust. Vara¯hapura¯nfi am. 1973. Edited by V. Gautama. 2 vols. Bareli, University Press, India: Sam fi skrfiti-Sam fi stha¯na. Vaudville, Charlotte. 1961–1962. “A Further Note on Kraun ˜ cavadha in Dhvanya¯loka and Ka¯vyamı¯ma¯msa.” Journal of the Oriental Institute [Baroda] 11: 122–126. Va¯yupura¯nfi am. 1959. Gurumandal Series 19. 2 vols. Calcutta: Gurumandal Press. Visfinfi udharmottarapura¯nfi a. 1971. Edited by Ashoka Chaterji Sastri. Gan˙ga¯natha-Jha¯granthama¯la¯. Varanasi: Sam fi skrfita Vis´vavidya¯laya Research Institute. Visfinfi upura¯nfi a. 1972. With the commentary of S´rı¯dhara. Edited by Sı¯ta¯ra¯mada¯s Om fi ka¯rana¯tha. Calcutta: n.p. Wujastyk, Dominik. [1998] 2001. The Roots of Ayurveda: Selections from Sanskrit Medical Writings. New Delhi: Penguin Books India.

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3 Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Textual Traditions in Eastern India William L. Smith

Writing Ra¯ma¯yanfi as How did one set about writing a Ra¯ma¯yanfi a? It had once been assumed that the medieval poets composed their versions of the epic with a manuscript of Va¯lmı¯ki propped up in front of them; after all, histories of literature refer to this genre as anuva¯da sa¯hitya, translation literature. However, many of the stories in these works are not found in Va¯lmı¯ki, so the process cannot have been so straightforward. To gain a better notion of the way in which vernacular Ra¯ma¯yanfi as were constructed, we can look to the rich Ra¯ma literature in the three eastern New Indo-Aryan (NIA) languages—Assamese, Bengali, and Oriya—that possess a wide range of Ra¯ma works written over the span of many centuries, which makes it possible for us to study in detail the development of the theme and the various influences that transformed it. It is difficult to say exactly how many premodern versions of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a were composed in northeastern India, since many still remain in manuscript, but it is possible that more versions of the epic are found here than in comparable regions. The majority of these poems are popular works intended for a mass audience, and for this reason, snobbish (in the linguistic sense) brahmans often had little respect for them—an attitude that persists to a certain extent today. Poets elsewhere in India, such as some writing in Marathi and Brajbha¯sfi a¯, produced sophisticated versions of the Ra¯ma story in strict conformance to Sanskrit rhetorical conventions. Although no similar works appeared in either Assamese or Bengali, several Oriya poets successfully emulated classical models. The most admired of them was eighteenth-century poet Upendra Bhanja, who composed a Ra¯ma work entitled Vaidehi Vila¯sa, a long poem, every


william l. smith

line of which begins with the consonant V. This exercise in rhetoric can only be understood, if at all, with the help of an extensive commentary. Despite (or because of ) the extreme difficulty of his style, Upendra Bhanja is considered the greatest medieval Oriya poet. On the other end of the scale we have works like the Bengali Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Candra¯vatı¯. It circulated orally for three centuries before finally being written down around a century ago. It was, like many popular Ra¯ma¯yanfi as, composed in rhyming couplets called paya¯r in Bengali, pada in Assamese, and danfi dfi a in Oriya. These simple meters, which have been called rhymed prose, made both composition and improvisation easier. Most Ra¯ma¯yanfi as were semi-oral in the sense that they were not read but performed, that is, sung or recited, often by professional singers called (in Bengali) ga¯yak or ga¯yen, and a number of them were composed by such professionals. Durga¯vara, author of the sixteenthcentury Gı¯ti Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in Assamese, for example, was a professional singer or oja¯ who also produced a song on the myth of the snake goddess Manasa¯. Only part of it has survived, and that part comprises songs composed in twenty different ragas, thus justifying the title of the poem. Other versions were designed for other purposes. In Assamese we have the S´rı¯ra¯makı¯rttana of Ananta ¯ ta¯, which was designed to be used in religious services; it was recited Tfi ha¯kur A by the leader of the group while the members of the group repeated the refrain as they clapped their hands. In other words, it was performed in the same way as a kı¯rtana. In terms of treatment, Ra¯ma poems can be divided into two categories: full Ra¯ma¯yanfi as that relate the entire story, and episodic Ra¯ma¯yanfi as that concern themselves with a single episode or a few related episodes. Interesting examples of the latter are found in Assam in the form of unique prequels and sequels to the Ra¯ma story. The S´atrun˜jaya of Raghuna¯tha Maha¯nta tells the tale of the digvijaya (march of conquest) of the monkey king Va¯lı¯ conducted by Hanuma¯n. The Adbhuta Ra¯ma¯yanfi a (which has nothing to do with the Sanskrit work of the same name) of the same poet, as well as the Pa¯ta¯lı¯ Ka¯nfi dfi a of Dvija Pan ˜ ca¯nana, continue the story of Sı¯ta¯ after she has returned to the bosom of her mother, the earth, though one might have thought that Sı¯ta¯’s story had definitely ended there. These two works tell how Sı¯ta¯, sitting in the underworld, misses her two sons Kus´a and Lava and sends a na¯ga to bring them back to her. The poems are largely concerned with Hanuma¯n’s pursuit of the boys and his battles with the na¯gas. In Bengal there are a large number of such episodic poems, including the Taranfi isena Yuddha, the S´iva Ra¯mera Yuddha, the slaying of the hundred-headed Ra¯vanfi a, the An˙gada Ra¯yba¯ra, and various others. Sometimes they were inserted into complete versions of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Even full versions of the epic often did not always circulate as complete manuscripts but as individual ka¯nfi dfi as. Since manuscripts underwent changes over the centuries, independently circulating versions of the same ka¯nfi dfi a often became increasingly divergent, and if they were reassembled into complete versions of the epic, these could differ markedly from one another. Similarly, sometimes “new” Ra¯ma¯yanfi as were composed by assembling episodes or ka¯nfi dfi as from different sources, the contributions usually still bearing the bhanfi ita¯s, that is,

the ra¯ ma¯ yanfi a in eastern india


signatures of their authors. This process almost seems like shuffling a deck of cards, each shuffle producing a more or less different Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. There are also dramatic versions of episodes from the epic. The most important of them are the an˙kı¯ya¯ na¯fit plays of Assam, a dramatic form devised by the reformer S´an˙karadeva; many an˙kı¯ya¯ na¯fits are on Ra¯ma themes, and they continued to be written until the nineteenth-century. In Orissa the best known of the dramatic versions of the Ra¯ma theme are the Vicitra Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Vis´va¯na¯tha Khunfi fit¯ıa (early eighteenth century) and the S´rı¯ra¯malı¯la¯ of Vikrama Narendra, who wrote a century later. These dance dramas were performed outside in the open air during the Durga¯ Pu¯ja¯ festival in October or on Ra¯manavamı¯ in April, the verses being sung by choruses while boys danced to the music.

Va¯lmı¯ki Though the regional Ra¯ma¯yanfi as may not be translations of Va¯lmı¯ki, they do rely on him—more specifically, the eastern or Gaudian recension of Va¯lmı¯ki— for the basic story line, and even though some poets include a great deal of non-Va¯lmı¯kian material, this original outline is left intact. There is no reason to suppose that this proves firsthand familiarity with the Sanskrit original, since the knowledge of Va¯lmı¯ki’s work could have been acquired in other ways. The ¯ dika¯nfi dfi a, as it is known in first and final ka¯nfi dfi as are exceptions. The first or A eastern India, differs in that it often becomes a repository for a considerable number of non-Va¯lmı¯kian (though not necessarily non-Sanskritic) stories. The ¯ dika¯nfi dfi a of the seventeenth-century Bengali poet seventy-six adhya¯yas of the A Adbhuta¯ca¯ryya, for example, contain accounts of Visfi nfi u’s battle with Madhu Kaitfiabha, the story of Garudfi a, of the marriage of S´iva and Pa¯rvatı¯, the birth of Ka¯rttikeya; the fight of the forty-nine winds with Sumeru, S´iva’s victory over Tripura¯sura, the story of Dhruva, and of Indra’s defeat of Vrfitra, as well as stories featuring Bali, Dilı¯pa, and other pura¯nfi ic figures.1 The Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a, on the other hand, is sometimes radically abridged or simply omitted; some poets felt that the epic ended on a more satisfactory note with Ra¯ma’s triumphant return to Ayodhya¯ and his coronation. When speaking of Va¯lmı¯ki, it should be kept in mind that in the opinion of the medieval poets he was not only the a¯di kavi, the “original poet,” and author of the original Ra¯ma¯yanfi a but also the author of many other Sanskrit Ra¯ma¯yanfi as, including the Adhya¯tma Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, ¯ nanda Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, in the same way that it was asAdbhu¯ta Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, and A sumed that Vya¯sa had composed the Maha¯bha¯rata along with all eighteen Pura¯nfi as and eighteen Upapura¯nfi as.

¯ di Kavis The Other A The regional poets picked up their Ra¯ma lore in various ways. A potential poet would most likely hear his first version of the story of Ra¯ma sitting on grand-


william l. smith

mother’s knee and then, as he progressed through life, would come into contact with it in other forms: folktales, dramatic performances, paintings, and sculpture, as well as written versions in his own language, and, if well educated, Sanskrit and even perhaps versions in other languages. We can feel sure that the first full version of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a that any poet heard or read was one in his own language. Each of our three languages possesses a written version of the epic that has dominated the local tradition from the time it first appeared until today; these three renderings also happen to be the first full versions written in the respective languages. Because of their later influence, any stories selected by the three earliest Ra¯ma poets tended to be included in the Ra¯ma¯yanfi as of their successors. The oldest of them is the fourteenth-century Assamese rendering of Ma¯dhava Kandalı¯.2 His version, which is unusually faithful to Va¯lmı¯ki, lacks a first as well as a final ka¯nfi dfi a, and it is not known whether they have been lost or were never written. Around 150 years after Ma¯dhava Kandalı¯’s Ra¯ma¯yanfi a appeared, the devotional movement was introduced into Assam by the reforming poet-saint S´an˙karadeva. Some of the Vaisfi nfi ava reformers were critical of the lack of the devotional spirit in Ma¯dhava Kandalı¯’s poem, and one of them, Ananta Kandalı¯, announced that he would rewrite the poem in conformance with bhakti ideas. According to later hagiographers, the longdeceased Ma¯dhava Kandalı¯ was so upset at the prospect of his Ra¯ma¯yanfi a being superseded by a new version that he appeared in a dream to S´an˙karadeva and asked him to save it from oblivion. S´an˙karadeva heeded his plea and “devotionalized” the poem with the help of his disciple Ma¯dhavadeva by the simple expedient of inserting exhortations built up around phrases like bolo ra¯ma ra¯ma in the colophons, such as pala¯uk pa¯taka bolo ra¯ma ra¯ma, “let sin flee, say Ra¯ma Ra¯ma!” They did not apparently make any alterations in the narrative itself. These superficial alterations were deemed sufficient to make the work devotionally acceptable, and Kandalı¯’s poem remained dominant in Assam. S´an˙karadeva and Ma¯dhavadeva also added the two missing ka¯nfi dfi as. Despite the fact that both reformers were excellent Sanskrit scholars, they chose not to rely ¯ dika¯nfi dfi a is rich in upon Va¯lmı¯ki, as Ma¯dhava Kandalı¯ had. Ma¯dhavadeva’s A ´ non-Va¯lmı¯kian stories, and in the Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a San˙kardeva concentrates on the story of Ra¯ma’s repudiation of Sı¯ta¯ and omits most else. His treatment of the story is remarkable for his strong sympathy with Sı¯ta¯.3 Despite this, Ananta Kandalı¯ did carry out his plan: his revised version of Ma¯dhava Kandalı¯’s poem is distinguished by its homiletic asides and the thorough bowdlerization of all mention of deities other than Visfi nfi u. His version of the epic never approached the original in popularity, and his approach probably had much to do with this. The late fifteenth-century poet Krfittiva¯sa dominates the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a tradition in Bengal in a very different way. Krfittiva¯sa’s original Ra¯ma¯yanfi a garnered so much prestige that before long other poets began writing new material under his name, and as a consequence eventually a number of diverse Ra¯ma¯yanfi as bearing the signature of Krfittiva¯sa were in circulation. The seventeenth-century manuscript of his Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a edited by Hirendrana¯th Datta,4 for example, is almost as long as a complete version of the Krfittiva¯sı¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a based on two eighteenth-century manuscripts edited by Sukhamaya Mukhopa¯dhya¯ya.5 Over

the ra¯ ma¯ yanfi a in eastern india


fifteen hundred manuscripts bearing the signature of Krfittiva¯sa are extant, including many episodic Ra¯ma¯yanfi as on diverse themes ranging from the war between Ra¯ma and S´iva to the slaying of the hundred-headed Ra¯vanfi a.6 This state of affairs did not come to an end with the introduction of printing. The first printed version of Krttiva¯sa, one of the first Bengali books to use the new (for India) technology, came out in 1803. Thirty years later it was decided to bring out a new edition, and a Sanskrit scholar named Jayagopa¯l was given the task of editing it. Jayagopa¯l found the first edition full of what he considered vulgarisms, inconsistencies, and linguistic impurities, so he revised it. After him, the process was repeated as new editors altered the text, changing the language and sometimes adding new materials much in the same way as their predecessors had been doing in pre-printing days.7 As a result, there exist a number of Ra¯ma¯yanfi as that are only nominally by Krfittiva¯sa, although they appear under his name. Many such editions have been printed, and when scholars refer to Krfittiva¯sa, they often mean one or another of them. Because of this, when speaking of Krfittiva¯sa it should be made clear which particular Krfittiva¯sa is meant. The dominant version of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in Orissa, that of Balara¯mada¯sa, which appeared at the beginning of the fifteenth-century, is known as Danfi dfi¯ı Ra¯ma¯yanfi a after the meter used in it, as well as the Jagamohan Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, “the world enchanter.” It is a lengthy work and a need came to be felt for abbreviated versions; several with the title Tfi ¯ıka¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a were written. In the Tfi ¯ıka¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Mahes´vara Da¯sa, Balara¯ma’s substantial poem is reduced to around forty printed pages.8 Since Balara¯mada¯sa, like Krfittiva¯sa, was extremely popular, later poets contributed new material to his manuscripts and signed his name to their versions. In Orissa, however, the process took a different course from that in Bengal. The version of Balara¯ma that circulated in southern Orissa steadily absorbed new, very diverse material in this way, and eventually assumed an encyclopedic character, growing to almost three thousand pages in its printed version, seventy times the size of the Tfi ¯ıka¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. This version of the poem became known as the Daksfiinfi ¯ı Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, since it developed in southern Orissa. A great range of Ra¯ma stories found a home in it. For example, not only do we find here the original villain, the ten-headed Ra¯vanfi a, but also Mahı¯ra¯vanfi a, the hundred-headed Ra¯vanfi a, and the thousand-headed Ra¯vanfi a; what is remarkable is not the fact that these stories are included but that the different Ra¯vanfi as are integrated into the plot, and regularly confer, plot and act in concert. 9

Oral Traditions Ra¯ma literature in various oral forms had always been circulating in India; it was, after all, from such material that the original Va¯lmı¯ki fashioned the original Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Like Va¯lmı¯ki, the vernacular poets made use of this rich literature, though it is not always easy to say whether a story that appears for the first time in a certain version of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a was adopted from an oral


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tradition by its author or was the product of that author’s imagination. The geographical range of such orally circulating stories varied. Some were restricted to a single region or subregion, whereas others seem to be found everywhere in India. Each of our three Ra¯ma¯yanfi a traditions possesses stories that are apparently not found in other language areas.10 An example of Bengali Ra¯ma lore is the story of the birth of Ra¯ma’s ancestor Bhagı¯ratha, which first appears in the eastern recension of the Svargakhanfi dfi a of the Padma Pura¯nfi a no later than the fourteenth century.11 According to it, after King Dilı¯pa died childless, his two wives, fearing the extinction of his line, went to the sage Vasisfi fitha for advice. He gave them a sacrificial oblation (caru) to share and said that the two should make love, with one of them playing the male role. The two queens followed his advice, and one became pregnant and gave birth to Bhagı¯ratha. However, because he was fathered by a woman, he was born without bones. This handicap was remedied by a convenient curse from the sage Asfi fita¯vakra. This story made its way into the Ra¯ma¯yanfi as of Krfittiva¯sa12 and Adbhu¯ta¯ca¯ryya,13 and can also be found in the seventeenth century Canfi dfi¯ı Man˙gala of Mukundara¯ma, Bhava¯nanda’s Bengali translation of the Harivam ˙ s´a, (also of the seventeenth century), as well as in a unique manuscript of the Va¯sisfifitha Ra¯ma¯yanfi a preserved in the manuscript library of Dhaka University.14 Similarly, stories that were uniquely Orissan found their place in the Danfi dfi¯ı Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. One such tale tells how Ra¯ma and Laksfi manfi a were wandering through the forest in search of Sı¯ta¯ and began to suffer from hunger. They noticed a cow pen and Ra¯ma suggested that they purchase some milk from the cowherds. The proud Laksfi manfi a, however, was loath to beg and suggested that they instead kill the cowherds, take the cows as an ambulatory food supply, and give them away to brahmans when they eventually returned to Ayodhya¯. Ra¯ma told him to buy the milk instead, but when a reluctant Laksfi manfi a offered the cowherds jewels in payment, they mistook the jewels for berries, and suspecting that Ra¯ma and Laksfi manfi a were trying to trick them, they showered Laksfi manfi a with insults. Enraged, Laksfi manfi a uttered a curse, and as a consequence the cows started giving blood instead of milk. This made the cowherds realize their mistake.15 Other stories circulated over a wider area. Both Krfittiva¯sa and Ma¯dhavdeva, for example, tell the story of how Das´aratha became infatuated with his many wives and spent his days amusing himself in his harem rather then administering his kingdom; as a result it was stricken by a terrible drought. One day while Das´aratha was out hunting, he happened to seat himself beneath a tree in which a pair of birds were discussing their decision to leave his unhappy kingdom and find refuge in a better-governed one. This made Das´aratha realize his mistake. Some oral stories seem to be found in many regions of India. For example, the story of Mahı¯ra¯vanfi a was originally a Tamil folktale,16 which eventually came to be found everywhere from Tamilnadu to Nepal and was so popular that it even made its way into printed editions of Tulsı¯da¯s. It is found in a number of variants: in some versions of the story there is one demon, Mahı¯ra¯vanfi a (or

the ra¯ ma¯ yanfi a in eastern india


Maira¯vanfi a); in others two, Mahı¯ra¯vanfi a and Ahı¯ra¯vanfi a; and in versions current in Bengal and Assam, Ahira¯vanfi a is the posthumous son of Mahı¯ra¯vanfi a.17 It was very popular in eastern India. In Assam, the Mahı¯ra¯vanfi a tale was told at length in an episodic Ra¯ma¯yanfi a.18 Krfittiva¯sa includes it—all versions of Krfittiva¯sa—and so do many of the later Bengali poets who follow him. Though not in Balara¯mada¯sa, it finds a place in the Tfi ¯ıka¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Mahes´varada¯sa, and Mahı¯ra¯vanfi a plays an elaborate role in the Daksfiinfi ¯ı Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Vernacular Ra¯ma¯yanfi as both within and without India sometimes display common, non-Va¯lmı¯kian characteristics that are not the result of textual influence, whether of oral or written literature, but of coincidental efforts to improve upon Va¯lmı¯ki. One notices, for example, that many poets prefer to tell the story of Ra¯vanfi a’s birth and earlier career in the first ka¯nfi dfi a of the epic rather than in the last, as in Va¯lmı¯ki. This seems far more sensible than telling it after the demon is dead and gone, or at least many poets thought so, including Krfittiva¯sa, Balara¯mada¯sa, and others from other regions, including those from many Southeast Asian countries. We can also speak of emphases, rather than innovations. Certain themes or stories enjoyed special popularity in certain areas. The story of the seduction of Rfi sfi yas´rin˙ga, the sages’s son with deer antlers, enjoyed a popularity in Orissa that was older than Oriya literature itself, since the story is illustrated in the temple sculptures of Bhuvanes´vara. A written version appears in the last quarter of the fifteenth century in the Ra¯mopakhya¯na (or its equivalent) in the vanaparva of the Maha¯bha¯rata of Sarala¯da¯sa. Balara¯mada¯sa retells it at length, as do many of his successors, all of whom seem to be more interested in it than was Va¯lmı¯ki. In Bengali a counterpart is the An˙gada Ra¯yba¯ra, (the embassy of An˙gada), which describes the mission of An˙gada to Ra¯vanfi a in an attempt to negotiate the return of Sı¯ta¯ before hostilities commence; what in Va¯lmı¯ki is a minor episode is transformed here into a largely comic tale in which An˙gada humiliates the demon king.19

Bhakti The devotional movement was a major influence whose ideas chiefly made themselves felt through the medium of Sanskrit works such as the Adhya¯tma Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, the Bhus´unfi dfi i Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, various Pura¯nfi as, and other texts. As was noted, Ma¯dhava Kandalı¯ wrote his Ra¯ma¯yanfi a before the movement made an impression in Assam, and the Gı¯ti Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Durga¯vara from early sixteenth century is equally unaffected by bhakti ideas, as was the original, unrecoverable, Krfittiva¯sa, though some devotional themes were added to the Bengali poem later and are prominent in the popular printings. By the time of Balara¯mada¯sa, the situation had begun to change, and in his Ra¯ma¯yanfi a several of the most familiar devotional themes first appear in eastern India; later hagiographers describe Balara¯mada¯sa as a disciple of Caitanya, who spent the last period of his life in Puri. Thereafter the influence of devotionalism steadily


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grew, and generally speaking, the later a work was written, the more influenced it was by devotional ideas. Sometimes, as will be seen, these ideas were given remarkable expression. The influence of the Adhya¯tma Ra¯ma¯yanfi a on the eastern NIA Ra¯ma¯yanfi as is less extensive than elsewhere in north India (as in Tulsı¯da¯s, for example), partially because some vernacular versions of the epic had already been written either before it made its influence felt, or perhaps before it had been written. The Adhya¯tma Ra¯ma¯yanfi a contains an abbreviated Va¯lmı¯kian account of events, which it reinterprets in a devotional light. Here Ra¯ma is very much aware that he is the avatar of Visfi nfi u, and this knowledge dictates the course of his and others’ actions. Ra¯vanfi a only pretends to be Ra¯ma’s enemy because he knows that anyone who dies by the hand of Visfi nfi u goes to his reward in Vaikunfi fitha. Manthara¯ and Kaikeyı¯ are not moved by ill will either; the day before Ra¯ma is to be crowned, the gods intervene in events by commanding Sarasvatı¯, the goddess of speech, to possess both of them, so that Kaikeyı¯ will demand the fatal boon from Das´aratha, Ra¯ma will be exiled, and Ra¯vanfi a killed.20 This motif came to be frequently employed later, especially in Oriya Ra¯ma¯yanfi as. Its influence can already be seen in Balara¯mada¯sa, where the gods send down the celestial cow Surabhi to take the form of Manthara¯ and the celestial beings Khalfia and Durbalfia to possess Kaikeyı¯.21 The influence of the Adhya¯tma Ra¯ma¯yanfi a continued to grow, and by the eighteenth century it had grown to be so popular in Orissa that it had appeared in two Oriya translations. We are speaking here of translation in the modern sense of the word, not free renderings, which are usually the case in older times. Another very influential devotional theme (formally at least) was the story of Ra¯ma’s sons Kus´a and Lava, who unwittingly disrupt their father’s horse sacrifice and become involved in a fierce battle with his brothers, friends, and allies. This theme was primarily transmitted through two Sanskrit texts, the Ra¯ma¯´svamedha of the Pa¯ta¯lakhanfi dfi a of the Padmapuranfi a, and the Kus´alavopa¯khya¯na¯ of the Jaimini As´vamedhaparvan or Jaimini Bha¯rata, as it is also known. The latter was the more popular of the two accounts in eastern India. This is an ancient theme; the earliest version appears in the Paumacariyam, a Jaina Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Vimalasur¯i, which was the first complete version of the epic written after Va¯lmı¯ki.22 In Assam it was retold in the very early (fifteenth century?) Lava Kus´ara Yuddha of Harivara Bipra and later in the Sita¯ra Banaba¯sa of Ganfi ga¯dhara. In Bengal it is found in Krfittiva¯sa and later versions.23 It was not, however, popular in Orissa. Many other devotional stories found a home in the eastern Ra¯ma¯yanfi as, though it is not always easy to ascertain the exact path they took to get there. One such story is Ra¯ma’s encounter with S´abarı¯ (or S´avarı¯). In Va¯lmı¯ki’s Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, S´avarı¯ is the pupil of the deceased sage Matan˙ga and who offers Ra¯ma and Laksfi manfi a hospitality when they visit her ashram during their search for Sı¯ta¯. After entertaining them, S´avarı¯ immolates herself in order to join her guru.24 The devotionalized version of this encounter first appears in a south Indian text, the Divya S´rı¯ Caritra, and describes how S´avarı¯ offers Ra¯ma and Laksfi manfi a fruit she has first tasted in order to test its sweetness. Since she is

the ra¯ ma¯ yanfi a in eastern india


a member of the S´avara tribe, according to Hindu dietary rules this tasting polluted the fruit for all caste Hindus; despite that, Ra¯ma deliberately selected the pieces of fruit with her tooth marks on them, thus illustrating his respect for her devotion and his indifference to such caste conventions. As one might expect, Ma¯dhava Kandalı¯ is not very interested in the story and doesn’t even mention the name of S´avarı¯’s mentor; some Krfittiva¯san manuscripts call her S´ravanfi a¯ Sundarı¯ (in Va¯lmı¯ki she’s an old woman, vrfiddha¯) and a member of the Sarabha tribe.25 In popular editions of the same poet, the story is glossed over and the fact that S´avarı¯ gave Ra¯ma and Laksfi manfi a food is not even mentioned. Balara¯mada¯sa gives full play to the devotional version of the story, as do later poets such as the late-eighteenth-century Bengali poets Ra¯maprasa¯da26 and Raghunandana Gosva¯mı¯. This tale, though originally first recorded in Sanskrit in the Divya Srı¯ Caritra, which is a collection of hagiographies of Tamil saints, must have been transmitted to eastern India through some other medium, perhaps oral. S´avarı¯ came to be considered a saint, and her story was widely told in north Indian hagiographical literature.27 Many other Ra¯ma devotional stories probably made their way east in a similar fashion.

Regional Devotional Innovations The reformers preached that bhakti led to salvation for everyone, even sinners, including Ra¯ma’s demon foes. According to the Adhya¯tma Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, as we have seen, Ra¯vanfi a carried off Sı¯ta¯ —for whom he actually entertained only the noblest of feelings—for the sole purpose of ensuring his death by Ra¯ma’s hand. Later this idea was further developed: Not only is Ra¯vanfi a merely pretending to be the enemy of Ra¯ma but Ra¯ma, Sı¯ta¯, and others are pretending as well, “for the sake of the lı¯la¯ [play].” According to the Ra¯mprasa¯dı¯-Jagadra¯mı¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, during the siege of Lan˙ka¯ Ra¯vanfi a, a passionate devotee of Ra¯ma, would meet secretly with his apparent opponent; Sı¯ta¯ would also be present, brought in a covered palanquin so no one could recognize her; at dawn they would separate and continue their official roles until, in order to ensure the success of Ra¯ma’s mission, Ra¯vanfi a officiated over a sacrifice intended to accomplish his own destruction.28 A number of variants on a similar theme are found in Oriya and Bengali Ra¯ma¯yanfi as where less prominent demons play the role of devotee. One such story makes an appearance in the Danfi dfi¯ı Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Here the devout demon is Vı¯raba¯hu, a son of Ra¯vanfi a, whose goal, like that of his father, is to be killed by Ra¯ma on the battlefield. He, however, makes no secret of his devotion. Since his prowess is equal to his devotion, he wreaks havoc on Ra¯ma’s army before knocking Ra¯ma himself unconscious, and when Ra¯ma eventually recovers consciousness, he is surprised to see the demon groveling at his feet and is so impressed that he offers him a boon. The boon that Vı¯raba¯hu asks for is that Ra¯ma cut off his head. Ra¯ma, of course, cannot kill a devotee and refuses, but the gods, who have been anxiously observing the course of the battle, worry that Ra¯ma will give up the fight, and so they send Khalfia and Sarasvatı¯ to possess Vı¯raba¯hu and speak in his voice in


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much the same way as they had done earlier. As a consequence, the demon begins taunting Ra¯ma, who then changes his mind and obligingly kills him.29 The motif turns up in Bengali Ra¯ma literature a century or more later. There the best-known manifestation of the theme is the story of Taranfi ¯ısena, which is most familiar from the versions in the popular editions of Krfittiva¯sa; it is not, however, found in all the older manuscripts of Krfittiva¯sa.30 There are also versions of this story by S´anfi kara Kavicandra, Dvija Daya¯ra¯ma, and other poets.31 Taranfi ¯ısena, the son of Vibhı¯sfi anfi a, finally comes face to face with the object of his devotion, after defeating An˙gada, Sugrı¯va, Hanuma¯n, and Laksfi manfi a. Here, too, Ra¯ma refuses to kill his devotee, so Taranfi ¯ı finds himself obliged to feign hostility; this fools Ra¯ma, who shoots off his head with an arrow.

S´a¯kta Influences S´a¯kta influences, though less persuasive, are found in all three languages. The most common themes derive from, or are inspired by, stories from the S´a¯kta pura¯nfi as and the Adbhuta Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, which are intended to illustrate the superiority of the goddess to Ra¯ma. They do this by showing that Ra¯ma was only able to overcome Ra¯vanfi a because of the help of the goddess. The Brfihaddharma and Maha¯bha¯gavata pura¯nfi as tell a story of how Hanuma¯n convinces the goddess to withdraw her protection from Lan˙ka¯ on condition that Ra¯ma offers her autumnal worship, that is, Du¯rga¯ Pu¯ja¯, the most popular Hindu festival in much of eastern India. The Adbhuta Ra¯ma¯yanfi a makes the same point in a much more dramatic fashion. It tells us how Sı¯ta¯ provokes Ra¯ma into offering battle to the much mightier thousand-headed Ra¯vanfi a, who rules the island of Pusfi kara. Ra¯ma takes up the challenge only to be slain by the demon, whereupon Sı¯ta¯ transforms herself into Ka¯lı¯ and destroys Ra¯vanfi a and his army. In Assam we find the story of the slaying of this second Ra¯vanfi a in an unlikely place, an anonymous play entitled S´ataskandha Ra¯vanfi a Vadha (the demon has only one hundred heads here); this seems odd, since the types of drama known as an˙kı¯ya na¯fitas otherwise only treated proper Vaisfi nfi ava subjects. In Bengal the story is retold in the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Adbhuta¯ca¯ryya as well as in episodic Ra¯ma¯yanfi as bearing the signature of Krfittiva¯sa.32 It can also be found, perhaps somewhat incongruously, in the Ra¯mprasa¯dı¯-Jagadra¯mı¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Most of the matter in the last work is taken from the Adhya¯tma and Bhus´unfi dfi¯ı Ra¯ma¯yanfi as along with other devotional episodes, to which he adds an extra ka¯nfi dfi a, the Pusfikaraka¯nfi dfi a (after the island home of the demon), which is a lengthy retelling of the story of the Adbhuta Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Then, after Sı¯ta¯ slays the demon, she returns to Ayodhya¯ with her husband, who not long afterward exiles her. The oldest of the eastern versions of this theme is the Oriya Bilan˙ka¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, popularly attributed to the fifteenth-century Maha¯bha¯rata poet Sarala¯da¯sa. Here the action takes place in Bilan˙ka¯, or anti-Lan˙ka¯, rather than Pusfi kara, and Hanuma¯n plays a much more important role. The work opens as Ra¯ma, Sı¯ta¯, and Laksfi manfi a are returning to Ayodhya¯ in triumph. The citizens

the ra¯ ma¯ yanfi a in eastern india


of the city are eager for their arrival, and a huge crowd headed by Bharata gathers to welcome them. When Laksfi manfi a sees it, he immediately believes the worst, thinks it an army, and tells Ra¯ma, s´unfi a sı¯ta¯na¯tha / ayodhya¯ra tha¯fita ghenfi i a¯santi bharata // . . . nis´caye karibe yuddha he raghuna¯yaka // mote yebe a¯jn˜a¯ debe prabhu raghuna¯tha / sainya balfia sahite mu˜ ma¯ribi bharata // . . . s´unfi ikari hasileka kaus´alya¯ tanuja / raja¯dele ghau¨dfi a¯i ra¯jyare ki karyya / se yebe nadeba mote ra¯jye pes´iba¯ku / ka¯nakı¯ gheninfi a punfi i yibi banasthaku //33 “Listen Lord of Sı¯ta¯! Bharata is coming along with the army of Ayodhya¯. . . . He certainly intends to give battle, Raghuna¯yaka! If you give the order Lord, I will kill Bharata along with his army.” . . . When he heard that, the son of Kaus´alya¯ smiled and said, “What’s the use of a kingdom if they give it to you then drive you out? If he doesn’t allow me to enter the kingdom, I will take Sı¯ta¯ and go back to the forest.” Their fears prove unjustified, though Bharata only manages to convince a very reluctant Ra¯ma not to return to the forest after a long argument. Here, as so often in Oriya Ra¯ma literature, the gods intervene in order to make sure that Ra¯ma will slay the thousand-headed Ra¯vanfi a by having Khalfia and Durbalfia possess Sı¯ta¯, who thereupon shames Ra¯ma into facing the second Ra¯vanfi a. The Bilan˙ka¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a proved to be so popular that a sequel with the name Bilan˙ka¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Uttarakhanfi dfi a, in which the villain is a Ra¯vanfi a with a hundred thousand heads, was also written. Popular editions of Krfittiva¯sa contain a few s´a¯kta additions. One of the most original, which is not found in earlier manuscripts, tells how Ra¯vanfi a orders his court priest Brfihaspati (all the gods are his slaves) to read the Canfi dfi¯ı stava, that is, the Devı¯ Maha¯tmya, in order to stave off defeat; if he can recite it without error, the demon will be invincible. The gods, of course, take measures to prevent this and warn Ra¯ma, who in his turn commands Hanuma¯n to spoil the recitation. Hanuma¯n then takes the form of a fly, lands on some of the letters of the book in Brfihaspati’s hand and licks them off; as a result, his pronunciation of the sacred text is incorrect.34 The last obstacle to the killing of Ra¯vanfi a is thus removed.

One Culmination: The Visfinfi upurı¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a All these various influences helped determine the development of Ra¯ma¯yanfi a literature in eastern India over the course of the centuries, a development that


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culminated at the end of the eighteenth century, when British hegemony was established in eastern India. To get an idea of how of how these various influences ultimately made themselves felt, we can take a look at a Ra¯ma¯yanfi a from this period, the Visfinfi upurı¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of S´an˙kara Kavicandra. S´an˙kara was a learned poet and a professional singer who had also composed a S´iva Manfi gala as well as versions of the Bha¯gavata Pura¯nfi a and the Maha¯bha¯rata. Since this was the source of his livelihood, he must have been careful to give his audience what it wanted, and so he tends to include something for everyone. Naturally he includes many popular episodes, such as a lengthy account of the An˙gada Ra¯yba¯ra, the S´iva-Ra¯mera Yuddha, a tale which seems only to be found in Bengal,35 and, inevitably, the story of Mahı¯ra¯vanfi a. Kavi S´an˙kara refers to his version of the epic as “spiritual” (adhya¯tma),36 and he also includes many familiar devotional tales, such as that of S´avarı¯’s fruit tasting and the story of the devout squirrels who help Ra¯ma build the bridge to Lan˙ka¯. S´an˙kara’s treatment is especially fond of the demon devotee motif. First he tells the stories of Atika¯ya, Vı¯raba¯hu, and Suba¯hu, all devotees whose only goal is death at Ra¯ma’s hands,37 then goes on to the story of Taranfi ¯ısena, which is the longest single episode in his poem. Not satisfied with that, he relates the tale, also at length, of Aranfi isena or Aranfi i, Taranfi ¯ı’s younger brother. Aranfi i, like the others, yearns to get dars´ana of Ra¯ma and be slain by him. When Aranfi i finally comes face to face with the object of his devotion on the battlefield, he delivers a stuti, a paean: gale bastra putfiapa¯nfi i, staba kare aranfi i, tumi ra¯ma akhilera bandhu . . . jagajı¯vana tumi, cara¯cara cinta¯manfi i, tumi brahma¯ visnfi u bhola¯na¯tha / indra varunfi a a¯di, toma¯ bhaje pas´upati, tumi yata brahma¯nfi dfi era na¯tha // tara¯ite nis´a¯cara, a¯le nı¯la kalevara, janaka duhita¯ layya¯ /38 With scarf on neck, Aranfi i folded his hands and said, “You, Ra¯ma, are the friend of the universe. . . . You are the life of the world, the wishing jewel of creation, you are Brahma¯, Visfi nfi u, Indra, Varunfi a, and the other gods. Pas´upati worships you, you are Lord of all the universes. With your dark blue body you came, bringing the daughter of Janaka with you, in order to grant salvation to demons.” He goes on with his encomium for another dozen verses before his wish is granted and Ra¯ma’s arrow cuts off his head. However, his devotion does not end with that, for his head rolls across the battlefield, singing Ra¯ma’s praises, and comes to a stop at Ra¯ma’s feet. ka¯fita¯ munfi dfi a uccasvare ra¯ma ra¯ma bale / daya¯ra fitha¯kura tulya karilena kole // aranfi ira munfi dfi a puna kahiche dfi a¯kiya¯ / kotha¯ pita¯ vibhı¯fisanfi a dekhaha a¯siya¯ // eta s´uniya¯ cetana pa¯ila vibhı¯fisanfi a /

the ra¯ ma¯ yanfi a in eastern india


dekhe ka¯fita¯ munfi dfi a ra¯ma bale ghane ghana / ati bege dha¯yya¯ vibhı¯fisanfi a gela¯ tatha¯ / aranfi ira munfi dfi a bale dhanya tumi pita¯ // sa¯rthaka ra¯mera seva¯ kariya¯cha tumi // tava punfi ye ra¯mapada pa¯ila¯m a¯mi //39 The severed head shouted out the name of Ra¯ma in a loud voice and the Lord of Mercy picked it up and embraced it. Aranfi i’s head then shouted, “Where is my father, come Vibhı¯sfi anfi a and see!” When he heard this Vibhı¯sfi anfi a regained consciousness. The head saw that and shouted “Ra¯ma!” “Ra¯ma!” Vibhı¯sfi anfi a ran swiftly to where it was. “You are blessed, father,” said Aranfi i’s head. “You have served Ra¯ma successfully thanks to your merits I have gained His feet.” Then, with true Hindu catholicity, S´an˙kara Kavicandra adds the story of how Ra¯ma placated the goddess. When Ra¯ma confronts Ra¯vanfi a in the final battle, he shoots off the demon’s heads one after the other, only to see them sprout back on. The gods then realize that Ra¯vanfi a is protected by a boon, and intervene. They send down Pavana, the wind god, from heaven to tell Ra¯ma that the only way he can defeat Ra¯vanfi a is by placating the goddess. He then insures her favor with a stuti and the promise that he and his subject will give her autumnal worship, and that the three worlds will follow their example. She is finally moved to grant his wish when he tells her, ra¯mana¯ma ya¯vada tha¯kiva sam ˙ sa¯re / ta¯vata toma¯ra pu¯ja¯ kariveka nare //40 Men will give you pu¯ja¯ as long as the name of Ra¯ma remains in the world. One of the most interesting features of the Visfinfi upurı¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a is the contradictions that arise when different themes are juxtaposed. This is most obvious in the characterization of Ra¯ma. There are at least three different Ra¯mas: first, underlying all others, we have the idealized heroic Ra¯ma of Va¯lmı¯ki, a noble but still recognizably human hero; second, we have the deified Ra¯ma of devotional tradition, Ra¯ma the God of the gods deliberately playing out his human role. Alongside these, we have a third Ra¯ma, the village Ra¯ma, a Ra¯ma not so much humanized but banalized, for this Ra¯ma often displays many less praiseworthy human qualities. Though Aranfi i may praise the second Ra¯ma as the Lord of the Universe, when Brahma¯ descends from heaven to congratulate him for his victory at Lan˙ka¯, the third Ra¯ma disagrees: nara naha raghuna¯tha trailokyera pati / nara hena raghuna¯tha taba kena mati // ra¯ma bale nara a¯mi narakule janma /


william l. smith manusfiya haiya¯ kari manusfiyera karma / brahma¯ bale na¯hi ja¯na a¯pana avata¯ra / ana¯thera na¯tha tumi sam ˙ sa¯rera sa¯ra / toma¯ra am ˙ s´ete janma yata devaganfi a / laksfimı¯devı¯ sı¯ta¯ a¯ra tumi na¯ra¯yanfi a //41 “You are not a man” [said Brahma¯], “you are the Lord of the Triple World. Why Raghuna¯tha, do you think you are human?” Ra¯ma said, “I am a man, born in a human family. As a human, I performed a human deed.” Brahma¯ replied, “Don’t you know that you are an avatar? You are the Lord of the lordless, the essence of the world. All the gods were born of parts of you. The goddess Laksfi mı¯ is Sı¯ta¯ and you are Na¯ra¯yanfi a.”

Similar contradictions can be seen in Va¯li’s “deathbed” scene. Va¯li has just been shot in the back by Ra¯ma from his hiding place, and he bitterly upbraids his slayer. Va¯lmı¯ki gives great attention to this scene, devoting one sarga to Va¯li’s accusations and another to Ra¯ma’s reply; Ra¯ma’s response is so convincing that Va¯li clasps his hands together and forgives him.42 Though the Adhya¯tma Ra¯ma¯yanfi a abbreviates this scene, it does include some of Va¯li’s bitter reproaches, and the discussion reaches an abrupt end when Ra¯ma reveals his true identity to the monkey chieftain. Va¯li is immediately overcome by fear (bhayasantrasta), and says, ra¯ma ra¯ma maha¯bha¯ga ja¯ne tva¯m ˙ parames´varam / aja¯nata¯ maya¯ kin˜cid uktam ˙ ksfiantum arhasi //43 O Ra¯ma, O Ra¯ma of great fortune! I know you are the supreme Lord. Please forgive what I said to you in ignorance. Va¯li then delivers a paean praising Ra¯ma as the highest god, and expressing his good fortune at having gotten dars´ana of him. Though S´an˙kara may call his poem an Adhya¯tma Ra¯malı¯la¯, things take a very different turn there: ra¯ma kahe Va¯lı¯ ra¯ja¯ ninda¯ kara more / adha¯rmika dusfifitamati badhila¯m tore // ra¯ja¯ra mrfigaya¯ dharma likhita pura¯nfi e / s´as´aka va¯nara vya¯ghra badhi mrfigaganfi e // karaha parera him ˙ sa¯ na¯ ja¯ni svadharma / paks´a mrfiga pas´va¯di ja¯tira ´suna karma // brahma¯ra likhita srfisfifiti srfijila gosa¯n˜i / ta¯ha¯ra maithuna nı¯ta pas´upaksfiera na¯n˜i // s´rı¯ra¯ma balen va¯lı¯ s´una re durjana / tore badhila¯m a¯mi pratijn˜a¯ ka¯ranfi a // bujhya¯ dekha toma¯ra karinu upaga¯ra / svarga ja¯ha va¯lı¯ prı¯ti haiya¯ a¯ma¯ra //

the ra¯ ma¯ yanfi a in eastern india


ra¯ma bale teja na¯i ja¯nila¯m tora / kole kare bale ra¯ma dosfia ksfiema kara //44 Ra¯ma said, “King Va¯li, you’re reproaching me. I killed you because you are a violator of dharma and an evil-minded [one]. It’s written in the Pura¯nfi as that kings can hunt and kill game like hares, monkeys, and tigers.” [Va¯li replied], “You harm others. You don’t know your own dharma. Listen to the case for the behavior of birds and beasts! Brahma¯ made laws when he created the world, [but] his rules for sexual morality do not apply to birds and beasts!” Ra¯ma said, “Listen you villain, I killed you because of my promise [to Sugrı¯va]. Try to comprehend that I have done you a favor. Va¯li, I am pleased with you, go to heaven! I didn’t recognize your dignity,” said Ra¯ma, “forgive me!” he said, holding him in his arms. Here, as he does in Va¯lmı¯ki and the Adhya¯tma Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, Ra¯ma accuses Va¯li of sexual misconduct (he took his brother Sugrı¯va’s wife), so he was fulfilling his kshatriya duty by killing a miscreant. But Va¯li, quite logically it may seem, points out that these laws do not apply to animals, and he is clearly an animal. Exasperated, Ra¯ma has to switch to his divine persona abruptly and inform the wounded monkey that he should actually be grateful (as Taranfi ¯ı and Aranfi i would be), as he will go to heaven when he dies. But in the end, it is not Va¯li who apologizes to Ra¯ma, but Ra¯ma who apologizes to Va¯li. It does not end here. Guilt for the deed gnaws at Ra¯ma and he repeatedly refers to it, up to the very climax of the poem at his coronation in Ayodhya¯:45 sugrı¯ve dfi a¯kiya¯ ra¯ma dila a¯lin˙gana / dilen kunfi dfi ala ha¯ra mukutfia viciksfianfi a // s´rı¯ra¯ma balen ´suna para¯nfi era mita¯ / va¯lı¯ke ma¯riya¯ kainu anucita // trubhubane ma¯jhe a¯mi badfi a pa¯i la¯ja /46 Ra¯ma called out to Sugrı¯va and embraced him, He presented him with earrings, necklaces, and a marvelous crown. Ra¯ma said, “Listen my dearest friend, When I killed Va¯li, I did something improper. I was greatly shamed in all three worlds.” In these works Ra¯ma can be suspicious, obstinate, guilt-ridden, and timid. The other characters, too, are less than ideal here. Das´aratha is portrayed as a weak, uxorious old man under the thumb of his young wife; Laksfi manfi a, fanatically loyal to his brother, when faced by a problem always advocates the same solution—violence—whether dealing with demons, gopas, or his own brother Bharata. Other characters, too, readily resort to brutality. A good ex-


william l. smith

ample of this can be seen in the meeting between Sı¯ta¯ and Hanuma¯n after the fall of Lan˙ka¯: sı¯ta¯ bale s´una ba¯cha¯ pabanandana / tava upayukta da¯na cinti mane mana // . . . hanuma¯n bale ta¯jya na¯ ca¯i fitha¯kura¯nfi i / . . . eka da¯na dibe more na karibe a¯na / more da¯na dile tusfifita haba bhagava¯n // toma¯ra ka¯che a¯che yata ra¯vanfi era cedfi¯ı // . . . toma¯ra ka¯che pra¯nfi a laba ei ma¯go˜ da¯na // danta upa¯dfi iya¯ cula chinfi dfi i goche goche / a¯cha¯dfi iya¯ pranfi a laba barfia barfia ga¯che //47 Sı¯ta¯ said, “Listen dear Pavananandana, I’m thinking of a reward appropriate for you.” . . . Hanuma¯n replied, “I do not want a kingdom, O Queen, Give me one thing, do but that. If you give me that gift, God will be pleased. All of Ra¯vanfi a’s maidservants are with you. . . . I ask the favor of killing all of them, I want to yank out their teeth and rip out their hair in clumps, I want to uproot a great big tree and beat them all to death.” Sı¯ta¯ is shocked at his request, and points out that he will be guilty of strı¯vadha, and manages to persuade him to ask a more appropriate boon. Another quality one notices is what is called in Bengali gra¯myata¯, or “villageness,” here understood as vulgarity. It is given its most vivid expression in passages of excretory humor featuring the monkey warriors, as in a scene that describes a fight between Nı¯la and Ra¯vanfi a. Nı¯la jumps up on the demon’s head, and mukutfie bhramiya¯ bule dekhite na¯ pa¯y / prasraba karile mukha buka bha¯sya¯ ya¯y // krodha karyya¯ das´a¯nana mukha muche yata / jharajhara karyya¯ nı¯la mute avirata //48 He ran round on his crowns and [Ra¯vanfi a] couldn’t see him. He urinated and it flowed all over his faces and chest. Angrily Ra¯vanfi a wiped off all his faces, Nı¯la went pissing torrents. After Hanuma¯n finds Sı¯ta¯ in Lan˙ka¯, he takes the form of a sannyasi and urinates in a water pot (kamanfi dfi alu) and tells the demons that it contains holy water that he has collected from the pa¯n˜catı¯rtha. After the demons have drunk from it, he tells them what they really have done, and this results in the battle in which he is captured.49 It has sometimes been claimed that the humor in this literature is unintentional, the result of the authors having been half-educated rustic bumpkins.

the ra¯ ma¯ yanfi a in eastern india


Similar things have been said in regard to the depiction of Ra¯ma and the other actors on the epic as pettily human. But this is a misapprehension. Being closer to the realities of everyday life, the folk poets were less liable to be overawed by the epic. Solemnity is not their style. One can see a similar approach in the treatment of biblical themes in the miracle plays of medieval Europe. In their earthiness, both traditions reflect the sensibility of common folk and the vigor of down-to-earth language.

Parochialization The Ra¯ma literature of eastern India was largely composed for a peasant audience, and so it naturally reflects the tastes and values of that audience. Of the three major poets, this is most obvious in the many poems attributed to Krfittiva¯sa. This tendency toward parochialization seems the exact opposite of the devotionalization represented by works like the Adhya¯tma Ra¯ma¯yanfi a and the vernacular Ra¯ma¯yanfi as they influenced. In them the entire action of the epic becomes a passionless lı¯la¯ in which Ra¯ma and his fellow actors are fully aware that every one of their actions is intended to inspire, edify, and instruct devotees. The epic is transformed into a sermon. In parochialized treatments, the protagonists of the epic are not only prevented from being dehumanized but are even vulgarized, as are many of the other characters. Ra¯ma’s father is recharacterized as an old fool, who lets his wife boss him around, and a coward who hides in fear from Paras´ura¯m. Ra¯ma’s courage often fails him, as well, as does his intelligence, which frequently leaves him facing dilemmas that his wiser companions have to help him out of. Hanuma¯n becomes a comic figure, a role that is foreshadowed in Va¯lmı¯ki. In the Mahı¯ra¯vanfi a tale, Hanuma¯n knocks the goddess Ka¯lı¯ on the head, then impersonates her and greedily gobbles up all the food offerings. When the sun god refuses to obey him and delay setting, Hanuma¯n tucks the god under his arm and goes on his way, making sure the sun will not set. Noble rfisfi is like Vis´va¯mitra tend to cut sorry figures, too, and though they can still hurl terrible curses, they are at the same time muddled and timid. This quality, although it is seen by some as detracting from the theme, is viewed by others as one of the more endearing features of the popular Ra¯ma¯yanfi as, lending them a lively and realistic flavor, which makes them much more than simply second-rate imitations of Sanskrit models. notes 1. Chakravarti 1913. 2. Ma¯dhava Kandalı¯ 1972. 3. See Smith, 1994. 4. Krfittiva¯sa 1900. 5. Krfittiva¯sa 1981. 6. Many examples can be found in Ray and Bhattacharyya 1960; for example, mss. nos. 127–132 (Labakus´ara Yuddha), 152–157 (S´ataskandha Ra¯vanfi era Vadha), 159 (Naramedhayajn˜a), and 159 (S´iva-Ra¯mera Yuddha).


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7. For details, see Smith 1980. 8. Maheswar Das n.d. 9. Balara¯mada¯sa n.d. 10. Until Ra¯ma lore in general is properly inventoried, one cannot speak with total confidence about the distribution of any element of it. 11. Chatterjee, 1972, 16. 1–22. 12. It is found in some modern editions of this poet; for the text and translation of such a version, see Bose 2000, “Introduction,” pp. 4–5. 13. Chakravarti 1913, p. 169. 14. Ibid., p. 46. 15. Balara¯mada¯sa, 1912–1914, 4: 56–57. 16. See Zvelebil 1987. 17. See Smith, 1982, p. 10. 18. S´an˙karadeva 1908. 19. See Ray and Bhattacaryya 1960 for examples. 20. Munilal 2001, 2.2.44–46. 21. Balara¯mada¯sa, 1912–1914, 2: 26–27. 22. For details see Smith 1999. 23. It is found in Hirendranath Datta’s edition of the Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a and the popular printings, but not in Sukhamay Mukhopadhyaya’s edition. It also occurs in episodic manuscripts; cf. note 6. 24. Vyas 1992, 4.70. 25. Sukhamay Mukhopadhyaya’s edition, pp. 102–103 26. The Ra¯mprasa¯dı¯ Jagadra¯mı¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a was begun by Jagadra¯ma and continued after his death, which took place while he was working on the sixth ka¯nfi dfi a, by his son Ra¯mprasa¯da toward the end of the eighteenth century. 27. See Smith 2000, p. 207. 28. Bandyopadhyaya 1959, pp. 251–258. 29. Balara¯mada¯sa 1912–1914, vi 6: 254–270. 30. It is not found, for example, in Sukhamay Mukhopadhyaya’s edition. 31. Taranfi ¯ısener Yuddha by Dvija Daya¯ra¯ma is found in Sen, 1914, pp. 540ff. 32. See note 6. 33. Saralada¯sa n.d. 34. maksfiika¯ra ru¯pa dhare ca¯fitileka dvi-aksfiare dekhite na¯ pa¯y brfihaspati Krfittiva¯sa n.d., p. 453. 35. For this story, see Smith 1988, pp. 128–130. 36. adhya¯tma ra¯malı¯la¯ ga¯ila ´san˙kara, S´an˙kara 1979, p. 8. 37. His account of Vı¯raba¯hu differs from that in Balara¯mada¯sa. 38. S´an˙karadeva 1908, pp. 153–154. 39. Ibid., p. 155. 40. Ibid., p. 175. 41. Ibid., p. 184. 42. Vyas 1992, 4.17–18. 43. Munilal 2001, 4.2.65. 44. Ibid., p. 67. 45. The Visfinfi upurı¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, like many other Ra¯ma¯yanfi as, omits the Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a. 46. S´an˙karadeva 1908, p. 193. 47. Ibid., p. 181.

the ra¯ ma¯ yanfi a in eastern india


48. Ibid., p. 120. 49. Ibid., p. 79.

references Balara¯mada¯sa. 1912–1914. Brfihat o Sacitra Danfi dfi¯ı Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Edited by Gobinda Ratha. 2nd ed. Cuttack, n.p. ———. n.d. Jagamohana Ra¯ma¯yanfi a ba¯ Danfi dfi¯ı Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Cuttack: Dharma Grantha Store. Bandyopadhyaya, Ajit Kumar, ed. 1959 [ban˙ga¯bda 1366]. Ra¯mprasa¯dı¯ Jagadra¯mı¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. 3rd ed. Calcutta. Bose, Mandakranta, ed. 2000. A Varied Optic: Contemporary Studies in the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Vancouver: Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia. Chakravarti, Rajanikanta, ed. 1913 [ban˙ga¯bda 1320]. Adbhuta¯cha¯ryera Ra¯ma¯yanfi a a¯dyaka¯nfi dfi a, Calcutta: Rangpur Parishat Granthamala. Chatterjee, Asoke. 1972. The Svargakhanfi dfi a of Padma Pura¯nfi a. Varanasi: All India Kashiraj Trust. Das, Maheshwar. n.d. Tfi ¯ıka¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Katak: Dharma Grantha Store. Krfittiva¯sa. 1900 [ban˙ga¯bda 1307]. Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a. Edited by Hirendranath Datta. Calcutta: Bangiya Sahitya Parishad. ———. 1981. Ra¯ma¯yanfi a: Krfittiva¯sa Panfi dfi ita viracita. Edited by Sukhamay Mukhopadhyaya. 2nd ed. Calcutta: Bharavi. ———. n.d. Krfittiva¯sı¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Edited by Ashutosh Bhattacharya. Calcutta: Akhil Bharat Janashiksha Prachar Samiti. Ma¯dhava Kandalı¯. 1972. Saptaka¯nfi dfi a Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Edited by Haranarayan Dattabarua. 3rd ed. Guwahati: Dattabarua. Munilal, ed. 2001. Adhya¯tma Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Gorakhpur: Gita Press. Ray, Basantaranjan, and Taraprasanna Bhattacharyya, comp. 1960 [ban˙ga¯bda 1367]. Ba¯n˙gla¯ Puthira Vivaranfi a. Parisfi at-Puthis´a¯la¯y sam ˙ grfihita. Calcutta: Bangiya Sahitya Parishad. S´an˙karadeva. 1908. Mahira¯vanfi a Badha a¯ru Beta¯lacanfi dfi¯ı Upa¯khya¯na. 3rd ed. Calcutta: Shri Shivnath Sharma Bhattacharya. S´an˙kara Kavicandra. 1979 [ban˙ga¯bda 1386]. Visfinfi upurı¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Edited by Chitra Deb. Calcutta. Saralada¯sa. n.d. S´udramuni Sarala Da¯san˙ka krfita Vilan˙ka¯ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Cuttack: Orissa Kohinur Press. Sen, Dinesh Chandra. 1914. Van˙ga Sa¯hitya Paricaya, or, Selections from Bengali Literature. Part I. Calcutta: University of Calcutta. Smith, William. 1980. “Krfittiba¯sa and the Panfi dfi its: The Revision of the Bengali Ra¯ma¯yanfi a.” Studia Orientalia (Helsinki) 50, p. 229 ff. ———. 1982. “Mahira¯vanfi a and the Womb Demon.” Indologica Taurinensia 10. ———. 1988. Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Traditions in Eastern India: Assam, Bengal, Orissa. Stockholm: Department of Indology, University of Stockholm. ———. 1994. “The Wrath of Sı¯ta¯: S´an˙karadeva’s Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a.” Journal of Vaisfinfi ava Studies (New York) 2. 4:5–15. ———. 1999. “Variants of the Lavakus´opa¯khya¯na.” In Categorization and Interpretation, edited by Folke Josephson Meijerbergs Arkiv for Svensk Ordforskning. Goteborg: Styrelsen for Meijerbergs Institut vid Goteborgs Universitet 24, pp. 107–123.


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———. 2000. Patterns in North Indian Hagiography. Stockholm Studies in Indian Languages and Culture 3. Stockholm: University of Stockholm. Vyas, Ramkrishna T., ed. 1992. Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Vadodara: Oriental Institute. Zvelebil, Kamil V., trans. 1987. Two Tamil Folktales: Matanaka¯ma, The Story of Peaco*ck Ra¯vanfi a. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

4 Reinventing the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in Twentieth-Century Bengali Literature Mandakranta Bose The subject of this essay is the ambivalence—if not outright subversion—that has characterized the response to the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in Bengal since the nineteenth century. To begin with, it is necessary to acknowledge that for centuries the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a enjoyed one of the widest, if not the widest, circulation in the Bengali-speaking regions of India, reaching both literate and sub-literate audiences. The version of the epic that Bengali audiences knew was Krfittiva¯sa’s fourteenthcentury rendering of Va¯lmı¯ki’s original poem, and its popularity depended to a large extent on Krfittiva¯sa’s supple verse form, which was particularly suitable for recitation. It fitted into an existing powerful oral tradition and enhanced it so far that for centuries it remained the principal text for public readings and recitation in Bengal. Thereby it fostered a tradition of performance that was supple enough to bring together bhakti and wit within a framework of narrative, drama, and music in the immensely popular nineteenthcentury retelling of the epic by Dasharathi (Dashu) Ray. Although Krfittiva¯sa’s is the best known and fullest version of the epic in Bengali, the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a has been subject to several retellings from early to recent times, covering a wide range of narrative and sectarian choices from renditions of the entire plot to selected episodes, and even from Vaisfi nfi ava to S´a¯kta celebrations. Although Krfittiva¯sa consistently remolded Va¯lmı¯ki’s text to emphasize Ra¯ma’s divinity, he nonetheless followed the older story faithfully in its main lines and the overwhelming majority of details, thereby placing Ra¯ma firmly at the center of devotional Hinduism. Krfittiva¯sa’s alterations to the Va¯lmı¯ki plot are plainly designed to serve the cause of bhakti, although the lack of a definitive copy-text urges caution in making critical claims about Krfittiva¯sa’s authorial purpose. Close to


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fifteen hundred manuscripts are extant, most of them from the nineteenth century, and both they and printed editions often vary in their content. The earliest dependable text of the Krfittiva¯sı¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a is the one published in 1803 from the Mission Press of Serampore, which was followed by others that rely largely upon it but sometimes contain changes or interpolations, especially the editions known as batfi-tala¯ editions, which were cheap productions brought out for the mass market by publishers in a neighborhood of that name. But the numerous editions agree as to the bulk of the departures from Va¯lmı¯ki’s original, and these fit the narrative scheme of the Krfittiva¯sı¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a so organically that it is hard to attribute these inventions to anything but a single authorial imagination. To take one example, we may cite the story of the supernatural birth of Bhagı¯ratha, Ra¯ma’s ancestor, who is born out of the samesex union between the two wives of his dead father.1 Bhagı¯ratha is born deformed, without bones, and gains proper human shape only after his mothers manage to get him blessed by the sage Asfi fita¯vakra. This extraordinary event is projected as a direct initiative of the gods to keep the dynasty alive that will eventually produce Ra¯ma, the slayer of Ra¯vanfi a, and thus as proof of the loving care with which the gods keep watch over human life, which can be recompensated only by human devotion.2 This and all other deviations from Va¯lmı¯ki’s story seem invariably designed to orient the epic to a devotional matrix. This impulse is so strong that Krfittiva¯sa invents wholesale episodes to show that within many a lawless ra¯ksfiasa breast beats a devotee’s heart, as in the stories of Taranfi ¯ısena, Vı¯raba¯hu, and Mahı¯ra¯vanfi a. But all this is surpassed by Krfittiva¯sa’s astonishing revelation that as Ra¯vanfi a lies dying on the battlefield, he confesses his recognition of Ra¯ma as the eternal Brahma (Brahma sana¯tan), at whose feet he seeks a place as a devotee (ciradin a¯mi da¯sa caranfi e toma¯r).3 Despite such substantial inventions, the Krfittiva¯sı¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a remains true to the basic narrative and ethical pattern of Va¯lmı¯ki’s original. It is still centered on Ra¯ma’s exemplary dutifulness, his irresistible prowess, his absolute ascendancy over everything and everybody, and on the unquestioned justness of his victory over his adversaries. Like all early epics, it is a battle story told from the victor’s point of view. These generic marks of the epic established by Va¯lmı¯ki appear in Krfittiva¯sa and the storytellers who came after him. In addition, these successors follow in general the pattern of bhakti imposed by Krfittiva¯sa on the narrative, sometimes shifting the focus of devotion from Visfi nfi u to S´akti. But an alternative strain, both narrative and ideological, also appears in the eighteenth century, which leads to a very different view of the events, characters, and morality of what might be called the master text. A brief overview of Bengali Ra¯ma tales since the fifteenth century will set this alternative voice in context. Among the translators and retellers of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a who followed Krfittiva¯sa up to the nineteenth century, particularly interesting are Jagadram Ray, his son Ramprasad Ray, Raghunandan Goswami, Sankara Kavichandra, Ramananda Ghosh, and Dasharathi (Dashu) Ray. Jagadram and his son Ramprasad Ray, devotees of S´akti, invent for their Ra¯ma¯yanfi a (completed about 1790) an entirely new eighth part, the Pusfikaraka¯nfi dfi a, which reveals that Sı¯ta¯ is Ka¯lı¯,

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who saves Ra¯ma by killing a thousand-headed Ra¯vanfi a, far more terrifying than the ten-headed demon Ra¯ma had vanquished.4 Raghunandan Gosva¯mı¯ was a highly learned man who based his S´rı¯ Ra¯marasa¯yanfi a, published in 1831, on a careful study both of Va¯lmı¯ki and Tulsı¯da¯s, and his work continued to be published well into the nineteenth century. S´an˙kara Kavichandra invented several supplementary episodes that became inseparable parts of the later versions of Krfittiva¯sa’s Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, a good example being An˙gada’s comic visit to Ra¯vanfi a’s court as ambassador. In addition to his rendition of the entire epic, S´an˙kara also wrote poems centered on particular episodes, such as Lan˙ka¯ Ka¯nfi dfi a, Ra¯vanfi avadha, An˙gada Ra¯yba¯ra, and Laksfimanfi er S´aktis´ela. The Ra¯malı¯la¯ of Ramananda Ghosh, written in the eighteenth century, is a curious amalgam because it follows both the Adbhuta Ra¯ma¯yanfi a and the Adhyatma Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, and combines the Vaisfi nfi ava and S´a¯kta treatments of the Ra¯ma legend. Dasharathi (Dashu) Ray used the pa¯n˜ca¯lı¯ form to tailor the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a to the needs of oral performances, as indicated by his highly musical prosody, the concise presentation of exciting episodes, and their frequently humorous treatment. After Krfittiva¯sa, it was perhaps Dashu Ray who enjoyed the greatest popularity, especially among the lower strata of Bengali society. These retellings and a host of minor works were designed to celebrate the glories of Ra¯ma, and continued the devotional tune sung by Krfittiva¯sa. In these renditions the center stage is held by divine beings in their human incarnation, and the events of the tale are seen as parts of a vast divine scheme, to which human identities and relationships contribute only background texture. Right is whatever Ra¯ma does, and he is exempt from human questioning. This aspect of Bengali Ra¯ma¯yanfi as deserves close study, but here I must pass on to a different part of literary history. As I have noted above, side by side with these narratives of devotion there also exist others in which we see a decisive turn in the presentation of the story, in that they force human issues into the narrative, thereby shifting the focal point of the received story from the doings of godly beings to the lives of men and women. This shift is far more radical than a narrative reorganization or expansion, for it subjects the actions of the gods to human questioning and shakes the ethical foundation of the Ra¯ma cult. In the simplest terms, these Ra¯ma tales reduce Ra¯ma from a superhuman personage to a fallible and tragic human being, while the story, instead of celebrating Ra¯ma’s virtue and victory, emphasizes their costs. Although the earlier of these types of Ra¯ma tales do not deny the greatness of Ra¯ma, they do raise questions about his actions and their impact on others, especially Sı¯ta¯. Both Va¯lmı¯ki and Krfittiva¯sa record Ra¯ma’s harsh treatment of Sı¯ta¯, and Krfittiva¯sa in particular plays on the deep pathos of Sı¯ta¯’s fate, yet both poets find it a necessary if unpalatable condition for the higher good either of social organization or religious faith. For a very different point of view, we may look at the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Candra¯vatı¯, a late sixteenth-century woman poet from eastern Bengal. Although she reproduces the substance of the traditional story, her narrative choices, such as compacting the battle scenes, on the one hand, and expanding, on the other hand, all episodes dealing with women’s experiences, turns it into a sustained account


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figure 4.1. Kaikeyı¯’s daughter Kukuya¯ tricks Sı¯ta¯ into painting Ra¯vanfi a’s face, resulting in Ra¯ma’s jealous rage and exile of Sı¯ta¯. Episode from the Candra¯vatı¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a painted as a rural storyteller’s scroll by Nurjahan Citrakar of Midnapur, West Bengal. Author’s private collection. of the suffering inherent in being a woman. It is necessary to note that Candra¯vatı¯ does not make Sı¯ta¯ blame Ra¯ma. On the contrary, her Sı¯ta¯ can think of no better life than being married to Ra¯ma. But the issue here is not whether the poem is an indictment of patriarchy; rather, it is that the poem filters the events of the Ra¯ma legend through female eyes, whether they be those of Das´aratha’s queens, or Mandodarı¯, or Sı¯ta¯, or even Sı¯ta¯’s evil sister-in-law Kukuya¯, whose envious machinations lead to Sı¯ta¯’s downfall. The narrative authority of the female voice is even more decisively confirmed by the addition of the poet’s own life story, which thereby serves to set this revision of the customary Ra¯makatha¯ within a discourse on women’s self-perception. What was traditionally a celebration of manliness is thus turned into a depiction of women’s inescapably tragic lives.5 To set the record straight, we must note that Candra¯vatı¯ was not the only early poet to call attention to the human cost of Ra¯ma’s decisions, the acknowledgment of which exists in several Ra¯ma¯yanfi as from eastern India. A highly critical look at moral and ethical issues appears as early as the eighteenth century in the Oriya Ra¯ma¯yanfi as of writers such as S´an˙karadeva and Durga¯vara. Both S´an˙karadeva’s and Durga¯vara’s Ra¯ma is a mean-spirited man who casts

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doubt on Sı¯ta¯’s fidelity (pa¯tivratya). Durga¯vara’s Ra¯ma jumps to the conclusion that Sı¯ta¯ must have left him for another man when the brothers return to their hut after the hunt for the golden deer to find Sı¯ta¯ missing. Ra¯ma says, “women are easily swayed from constancy” sahaje can˜cala tiri ja¯ti. S´an˙karadeva is more directly critical of Ra¯ma’s mistreatment of Sı¯ta¯ in the Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a, and makes Sı¯ta¯ say, sabe bole enuva¯ ra¯maka bha¯la bha¯la / maito ja¯no mora ra¯mese yamaka¯la // sva¯mi hena nida¯runfi a kaita a¯che suni/ All speak well of Ra¯ma but I know that for me he is like Death itself. Tell me where else is there so cruel a husband?6 This is not only a lament for wronged women but an indictment of the very masculinity that spells the conventional Ra¯ma’s heroic fame. Works such as these reveal an altered consciousness at work, which signals the beginning of a tradition of looking at the epic from below, from the point of view of passive participants or even victims rather than that of the victor. In this sense, such treatments subvert the whole practice of the conventional epic. But the change in point of view is not only from a male to a female sensibility but also from the powerful to the powerless. Opening up issues of both gender and race, this altered perception strengthens as we move from the despondency of Candra¯vatı¯ to Michael Madhusudan Datta’s outright indictment of Ra¯ma in his Meghana¯davadha Ka¯vya, published in 1861. Few of Datta’s contemporaries or successors went to the length of actually saying, as he did, “I despise Rama and his rabble; but the idea of Ravan elevates and kindles my imagination; he was a grand fellow” (reported by Rajnarayan Basu),7 or of militantly demanding a fair hearing for the ra¯ksfiasas, but by the nineteenth century the Bengali cultural scene had begun to register a deep discomfort with the moral compromises and violation of common justice that drive the story of Ra¯ma’s supremacy. Even Dashu Ray’s conventional affirmation of devotion to Ra¯ma occasionally surprises the reader by questioning Ra¯ma’s righteousness, as we shall see below. Precisely because questions such as these arise from within the celebratory narrative tradition, they must be taken as the soundings of some deep disquiet. The history of Ra¯ma tales in Bengal, especially from the nineteenth century onward, shows that three episodes in particular have continued to cause this discomfort. The first is Ra¯ma’s treacherous killing of Va¯li as a favor to Sugrı¯va; the second, the advantage that Laksfi manfi a takes of Vibhı¯sfi anfi a’s treachery to kill the unprepared Indrajit; and the third, of course, Ra¯ma’s repeated exposure of Sı¯ta¯ to ordeals and eventual banishment. The best-known revulsion to the rule of expediency by which Ra¯ma triumphs is Madhusudan Datta’s Meghana¯davadha Ka¯vya with its sustained criticism of Ra¯ma and Laksfi manfi a, the transformation of Indrajit into a Greek hero on the model of Hector, and the humanizing of Ra¯vanfi a without condoning his pride and lust. That there were other writers, less outspoken but at least as troubled by Ra¯ma’s actions, most pow-


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erfully by the sufferings of Sı¯ta¯, is attested by no less a cultural arbiter than Datta’s benefactor Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar. In a striking move in his long tale “Sı¯ta¯ra Banaba¯sa,” published in 1860—that is, a year before Datta’s poem appeared—he transfers the responsibility for the final rejection of Sı¯ta¯ entirely to Ra¯ma’s subjects. It is not Ra¯ma who commands Sı¯ta¯ to undergo the ordeal by fire and—indeed there is no such ordeal—nor does Sı¯ta¯ sink into the earth but dies of a broken heart when, despite Va¯lmı¯ki’s affirmation of her chastity, the public at large refuses to accept it.8 Krfittiva¯sa’s Ra¯ma is grieved that his subjects question Sı¯ta¯’s virtue, and even though he complies with their demand, he does so only because ra¯jadharma requires him to do so. We may note a similar turn given to Ra¯ma’s mental state by Krfittiva¯sa, but Vidyasagar intensifies that state by relating Ra¯ma’s anguish in relentless length. His Ra¯ma is thus left free of guilt in Sı¯ta¯’s end and thus not undeserving of devotion. Could Vidyasagar have thought of this apologia if he had not found Ra¯ma’s conduct indefensible? The discomfort that pervades Bengali literary responses to the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a finds strong and persistent expression in twentieth-century critical and political essays.9 But for the present I would like to look rather at a very different kind of expression, though it is, I would argue, a sign of the same violated sensibility. In the works I deal with here, that sensibility acts through laughter, which deflects attention from the betrayals, cruelties, and injustices of the conventional narrative. The first instance of this trend is Dasharathi Ray’s version in pa¯n˜ca¯lı¯ form, that is, in rhymed verse designed for musical recitation. His version is a selective one that highlights the main events of the story. In its broad approach it is a celebration of Ra¯ma’s divinity and very much in the bhakti mode, and like Krfittiva¯sa’s Ra¯ma¯yanfi a it turns some of the ra¯ksfiasas into devout Vaisfi nfi avas. For instance, on his foray into Lan˙ka¯, Hanuma¯n is struck with wonder at ra¯ksfiasas chanting the name of Hari: kı¯ a¯s´carya mari, mari! ra¯ksfiasete bale hari, How astonishing, upon my life, Demons utter the name of the Lord!10 But an altogether opposite feeling crops up at the most unexpected moments. In a farcical episode, Hanuma¯n almost chokes on a mango he is given by Sı¯ta¯ for Ra¯ma. Saved by abjectly asking the absent Ra¯ma for forgiveness, Hanuma¯n nonetheless wonders how much truth there might be in Ra¯ma’s much-advertised reputation for loving his bhaktas when he is so quick to punish so insignificant a transgression.11 But a much darker doubt colors a question voiced by no less an authority figure than the god Agni. When commanded by Ra¯ma to undergo an ordeal by fire to prove her chastity after her rescue, Sı¯ta¯ enters the burning pyre; Agni saves her from burning to death and declares her absolute purity. This is, of course, the standard outcome in all formulations of this episode. To this, however, Dashu Ray adds the astonishing aside by Agni as he lifts her from the pyre:

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figure 4.2. Sı¯ta¯’s fire ordeal, the agnipariksfia¯. Painted scroll by Nurjahan Citrakar of Midnapur, West Bengal. Author’s private collection.

Dekhila¯m eito ka¯rya, Je din habe Ra¯mara¯jya, Diner prati to emni bica¯r habe! Now I see how it works: The day Ra¯ma’s reign begins This is the justice that the powerless will get!12 Will this be the pattern of justice in Ra¯ma’s reign? As in Dashu Ray’s frequently comic rendition, in much of Bengali retellings of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a grave questions underlie the comedy. These are not complete versions but treatments of particular Ra¯ma¯yanfi a episodes, and here I shall take two major examples of the type. These stories are far less well known, possibly entirely unknown outside a Bengali readership, and never critically considered even within that readership, no doubt because they offer comic treatments of aspects of the story and can therefore be dismissed as frivolous. As we have seen above, of the several renditions of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in Bengali, Datta’s is clearly the most radical and qualifies as a complete reformulation of the received narrative. But at least two Bengali humorists of the twentieth century present significant episodes of the narrative in the mirror of


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comedy in a manner that forces a revaluation of major themes and characters. These are Laksfimanfi era S´aktis´ela, a short play by Sukumar Ray, and “Hanuma¯ner Svapna,” a short story by Rajshekhar Bose, also known by his pen name Parashuram.13 Although both are light-hearted spin-offs from the traditional Ra¯ma¯yanfi a and designed primarily to make people laugh, both offer to different degrees alternative views of the understanding of heroic identity and gender relations in the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Laksfimanfi era S´aktis´ela is a farce in four scenes by Sukumar Ray written for a family group and first performed in 1910; this was followed by another performance in Shantiniketan in 1911, under the title Adbhuta Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, to mark Tagore’s fiftieth birthday; and a third time in the Ray family home at Giridih, Bihar, in 1913. Sukumar Ray, the first and perhaps the only writer of sophisticated nonsense verse and fiction in Bengali, was born in 1887, graduated B.Sc. from Presidency College, Calcutta, in 1906, went to England for training in photography and printing, and returned to Calcutta in 1913 to work in the large printing press founded by his father. The next ten years were immensely productive, marked especially by the composition of his best-known works, the nonsense story HaJaBaRaLa, and the volume of nonsense verse Abol Tabol. He died an untimely death in 1923, leaving behind his wife and only child, the filmmaker Satyajit Ray. Laksfimanfi era S´aktis´ela is in the form of the traditional Bengali ya¯tra¯, with much of the dialogue in song. The play is nominally about the encounter between Laksfi manfi a and Ra¯vanfi a after Indrajit’s death, which ends with Laksfi manfi a felled by Ra¯vanfi a’s irresistible weapon, a s´aktis´ela, to be revived only by medicinal herbs growing on Gandhama¯dana Parvata, which is uprooted and brought in by Hanuma¯n. Although this basic plot line of the episode in the source Ra¯ma¯yanfi a is maintained by Ray, it is turned into a hilarious confusion of trivialities, such as the messenger describing his midday meal instead of Ra¯vanfi a’s march toward Ra¯ma’s camp, Ra¯ma’s boastful companions suddenly remembering pressing engagements away from the battlefield, Ra¯vanfi a picking the fallen Laksfi manfi a’s pocket, Yamadu¯tas shaking with fear on seeing a live human, and Hanuma¯n malingering over traveling all the way to Gandhama¯dana Parvata until Ra¯ma hands out some baksheesh. The setting is that of the typical Bengali zamindar court, with Ra¯ma as the lord of the manor and his legendary lieutenants as petty functionaries and hangers-on. The play begins with Ra¯ma telling his court about his dream that Ra¯vanfi a is dead, whereupon Ja¯mbuva¯n declares in true courtier fashion that a regal dream (ra¯jasvapna) is never false, and the sycophantic audience repeat: “is not, will never be, cannot possibly be false” (hoy na¯, habe na¯, hote pa¯re na¯).14 Like other Bengali zamindars in Bengali humorous literature,15 Ra¯ma shows no inclination to action, and his satellites always try to get out of performing their duties. Ja¯mbuva¯n has to be cajoled to wake up from his nap to offer counsel, and Vibhı¯sfi anfi a sleeps on guard duty. Heroic postures are struck only to dissolve into falls and fumbles. Hearing in the third scene that Ra¯vanfi a may be near, Vibhı¯sfi anfi a frantically looks for his umbrella and his bag—well-known markers of the typical Bengali babu—while Ja¯mbuva¯n tries to get away by climbing on Vibhı¯sfi anfi a’s back. Later

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in the scene, as Ra¯ma laments the apparent death of his brother, the monkeys echo his Ha¯i, ha¯i, ha¯i, ha¯i—ha¯i ki holo, ha¯i ki holo, but take time out to gulp down a few more bananas. The invincible Yama himself is knocked down and buried by Hanuma¯n under Gandhama¯dana Parvata at the very moment he is announcing in solemn, alliterative verse the inevitability of his capture of Laksfi manfi a’s soul. Throughout the farce Ray uses the typical humorist’s technique of upstaging grand gestures and speech by commonplace idiom. For example, when Ra¯ma strikes a noble pose in the third scene to declaim, Ra¯vanfi er keno balo eto ba¯dfi a¯ba¯dfi i? / Pim ˙ pdfi er pa¯kha¯ utfihe mariba¯r tare // Jona¯kı¯ jemati ha¯i, agnipa¯ne rusfii // sambare khadyot lı¯la¯—// Tell me, why has Ra¯vanfi a grown so vainglorious? Ants grow wings only to die—just as, alas, a firefly rushes toward fire to meet his end! Ja¯mbuba¯n caps the heroic style by parodying it, presumably unconsciously: Ra¯ghav boa¯l jabe labhe abasar / bis´ra¯mer tare—takhani to ma¯tha¯ tuli // chan˙g putfii jato kare maha¯ a¯fispha¯lan / When the royal fish retires to take rest—that’s when the small fry raise their heads to prance about. The humor here consists as much in the parody as in the play upon the word Ra¯ghav, which denotes both Ra¯ma and the largest freshwater fish known to Bengalis, and generally considered unclean. How may we explain this trivialization of one of the most tense moments in the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a? Going far beyond merely humanizing the traditionally deified Ra¯ma and his heroic endeavor, this burlesque scales down the heroic characters into clowns. The troubling aspects of the s´aktis´ela episode in both Va¯lmı¯ki and Krfittiva¯sa, such as the reason for Ra¯vanfi a’s fury or Ra¯ma’s declaration that he would rather lose his kingdom and Sı¯ta¯ than lose Laksfi manfi a,16 are entirely concealed by the farce. This is of course only one episode, but Ray’s treatment of it seems part of a common attempt to block out the relentlessly grim character of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. To contextualize this approach in personal history, I would point out that Ray very likely inherited this light touch from his father, Upendra Kishore Raychoudhury, whose Ra¯ma¯yanfi a for boys (Cheleder Ra¯ma¯yanfi a) injects a strain of laughter even in battlefield scenes and turns the conflict into a high-spirited boys’ adventure. Laughter seems at once an interrogation and an escape, in that it undercuts the icons of nobility in the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a even as it sidesteps the verbal and visual imagery of death and dismemberment. A more sophisticated use of humor appears in my second example, a short story published in 1933 by the Bengali satirist and essayist Rajshekhar Bose.


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“Hanuma¯ner Svapna” starts with a dream of Hanuma¯n’s, from which he comes to understand that his celibacy will leave his ancestors without anybody after him to provide them with ritual offerings. On hearing of this dream, Sı¯ta¯ urges Hanuma¯n to look for a bride.17 As Hanuma¯n sets out on this quest, he begins to wonder how he would deal with the female of the species, mysterious creatures who laugh and cry without reason, hoard jewels, and acquire useless things: “If she does what pleases me, shall I honor her by placing her on my head? If she disobeys me, shall I slap her into obedience?” As he contemplates this ghora karma (grave business) he has undertaken, he runs into the noble young king of Tumba, Can ˜ carı¯ka, shortly followed by the revered rfisfii Lomas´a. These two very different men compound Hanuma¯n’s confusion. For Can ˜ carı¯ka, having just one wife means nonstop nagging, whereas for Lomas´a having a hundred means the same multiplied a hundred times. Finding neither man a useful guide, Hanuma¯n seeks out the monkey king Sugrı¯va who, with his 18,000 wives, ought to know how to deal with females if any male does. And sure enough, he has the failproof method of simply keeping his wives’ mouths always tied except for love-making. Turning down Sugrı¯va’s offer of his aging wife Ta¯ra¯, Hanuma¯n follows instead his suggestion to seek the hand of the monkey princess Cilimpa¯ in a neighboring kingdom. The princess has succeeded her late father to the throne, and in her arrogance she puts all her suitors to tests, failure in which carries the penalty of having one’s tail cut off. Facing the same fate, Hanuma¯n resorts to direct action and, grabbing her by her hair, he leaps into the sky to rush back to Ayodhya¯. Smitten with Hanuma¯n’s masculine prowess, Cilimpa¯ declares her love for him, but Hanuma¯n tells her to shut her mouth and, disenchanted with romance, literally drops her into the lap of Sugrı¯va, at play with his 18,000 wives in the calm waters of the Tungabhadra River. Arriving wifeless in Ayodhya¯, he confesses to Sı¯ta¯ that his heart is so full of love for Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯ that it has no room for wife and child. But what of his starving ancestors? His solution is immortality for himself, which Sı¯ta¯ gives him as a boon. On the surface, the story is funny because it explodes the conventional image of Ra¯ma’s commanders as noble and wise heroes, as in Ray’s treatment of the s´aktis´ela episode, but enhanced by the mock-heroic blending of a grand style with colloquialisms. But looked at more closely, Bose’s story is a disturbing exposition of racial and sexist conditions which, it seems to suggest, are inherent in the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Even Sı¯ta¯, Hanuma¯n’s self-declared mother figure from whom he eventually receives the boon of immortality,18 acknowledges his inferior racial status when she reassures him that on her command the sage Vasisfi fitha would raise him to the kshatriya caste. Distinctly more bigoted is Can ˜ carı¯ka; when rfisfii Lomas´a reports that he has had to leave his ashram, the noble young king jumps to the suspicion that Lomas´a has lost his wives to marauding ra¯ksfiasas. Stringing his bow, he exhorts Hanuma¯n: “Maha¯vı¯ra, why do you sit in amazed thought? Arise, you will have to cross the ocean once more. You didn’t do well to let Vibhı¯sfi anfi a run loose.” All males in the story

the ra¯ ma¯ yanfi a in bengali literature


confess themselves sick and tired of females, whether human or simian. The only male who handles females successfully is Sugrı¯va, a sexual glutton to whom a female’s only value consists in her body, as we see in his lust for Cilimpa¯ and his eagerness to offload the faithful but aging Queen Ta¯ra¯ onto Hanuma¯n because, he says, “I don’t need her any more.” Sugrı¯va’s brutal formula for dealing with females carries the simple lesson that the only thing females understand is force. In this view of gender, female individuality becomes utterly repugnant, and subduing the female takes on a special sexual excitement, which explains Sugrı¯va’s equal desire and fury (lo¯bha and a¯kros´a) with respect to the untamed Cilimpa¯. The Sugrı¯va gender philosophy is quickly proven right as the Hanuma¯nCilimpa¯ encounter reaches its climax. She smiles kindly at him, flutters her delicately held bunch of bananas at him teasingly, and in a sweet whisper dismisses him as a “uncultivated, dumb, senile infant” (ore barbar, ore abodh, ore brfiddha va¯laka). The other side of her gender identity as implied in Sugrı¯va’s formula is equally clear. Proving that females enjoy violation, Cilimpa¯ melts with love for Hanuma¯n when he treats her roughly. Given this evidence of female inferiority, Hanuma¯n makes the only reasonable choice, that of throwing Cilimpa¯ to the insatiable Sugrı¯va, thereby triumphing over the unmanly emotion of romance and keeping his manly celibacy eternally inviolate. It is the crudeness of the sexism that, I suggest, should alert us to the satirical potentialities of the story, which extend beyond its immediate action. Many questions that compel a critical rethinking of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a crowd in upon the reader. The story is initiated by the need to preserve lineage, surely a parody of Das´aratha’s anxiety, which ends in the terror of an answered prayer. Are we looking at parody as a vehicle of criticizing the longing for sons imputed to the traditional Indian ethos that sets off the tragic course of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a? More insistent questions arise from the abduction of Cilimpa¯, which is such an obvious parody of Sı¯ta¯’s abduction by Ra¯vanfi a that it is impossible not to see authorial deliberation behind it. Continuing the persistent devaluation of females in the story, which is reinforced by Cilimpa¯’s presumptuous vanity, Hanuma¯n’s action affirms the necessity for keeping females in their subordinate place, by force if need be. So smoothly is this thesis developed that it slips past our guard before we realize that it is poised to validate Ra¯vanfi a’s abduction of Sı¯ta¯ and to confirm the status of females as property. This may well compel the reader to reevaluate the treatment of females in the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, from the dismemberment of S´u¯rpanakha¯ by Laksfi manfi a to the abandonment of Sı¯ta¯ by Ra¯ma. The failure of males to connect with females is a necessary condition of “Hanuma¯ner Svapna”: Can ˜ carı¯ka fails with his one wife, Lomas´a with his hundred, and Hanuma¯n with Cilimpa¯. This brings us to the brink of the unstated question: is Ra¯ma any better? One of the ironies of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a as an epic tale is that it is centered on the abduction and recovery of a woman but it is not a story about her as a person. It seems to me that this decentering of the female is the critical target of “Hanuma¯ner Svapna,” which gains in ironic strength by overlaying with


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humor the author’s recognition of justice compromised in the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. In this victor’s narrative, the powerless and the vanquished do not get a fair deal, and this seems to be the burden of Bengali treatments of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in modern times. I am not suggesting that Bose sets out to dismiss the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a ethic wholesale. His respect for the epic was great, and one of his major works was in fact an abbreviated translation of the Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a (1946). But even as he praises the moral impact of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in his preface, he reminds the reader that “critical judgment must not be entirely suppressed while one enjoys [its] essence.” “Hanumaner Svapna” shows, I think, how he put some of the central ideas of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a to the test of critical judgment. To sum up, it seems to me that since the nineteenth century, Bengali approaches to the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a have shown a persistent ambivalence in viewing the ethical positions established within the narrative tradition, giving rise to an implicit questioning of the moral integrity of Ra¯ma. Spilling over from the literary domain, this questioning has become entrenched in the Bengali social discourse to the extent that at least from the twentieth century onward, Ra¯ma has ceased to enjoy the preeminence he has in much of the rest of India. Temples to Ra¯ma are virtually nonexistent in West Bengal (the postindependence location of Bengali Hindu culture). The erosion of Ra¯ma’s stature is marked not only by critical comments in political and ethical debates on the idea of the Ra¯mara¯jya but perhaps more tellingly when the Ra¯ma legend is turned into comedy or even farce. While “ra¯m” is a common enough element of older Bengali personal names (such as, Ra¯mmohan, Ra¯mprasa¯d), it is only among Bengali speakers that we find “ra¯m” used as an intensifying suffix to pejorative adjectives, such as boka¯ (foolish) or ha¯m ˙ da¯ (witless). The least one might say about the response to Ra¯ma in Bengal has been summed up by Stewart and Dimock in commenting on the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Krfittiva¯sa: “the image of Ra¯ma that lingers is less than complimentary.”19 Ra¯ma and his party are by no means rejected as villains, but neither are they unquestioningly glamorized in the modern Bengali milieu.20 This ambivalence is, of course, not unique to the Bengali Ra¯ma¯yanfi a tradition. In addition to documenting the diversity of narrative elements in regional retellings of the epic, recent scholarship has noted with particular interest the contestatory nature of alternative narratives. Paula Richman reflects this interest when she describes the orientation of her pioneering collection of essays entitled Many Ra¯ma¯yanfi as as “a study of tellings of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a that refashion or contest Va¯lmı¯ki’s text.”21 Nor is it an accident that Richman’s more recent collection of Ra¯ma¯yanfi a studies bears the title Questioning Ra¯ma¯yanfi as.22 Bengali retellings clearly fall within this alternative tradition of Ra¯ma tales, which students of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a have come accept as a literary, ethical, and political reality of as much authority as the tradition that stems from Va¯lmı¯ki, though not conventionally as valorized. If within this alternative tradition twentieth-century Bengali versions have a claim to uniqueness, it rests on the prevalence of a comic spirit that stretches from farce to irony and intimates an undermining of received wisdom that is not the less critical for being implied

the ra¯ ma¯ yanfi a in bengali literature


rather than frontal. Yet even here, as they refashion criticism as comedy, Bengali Ra¯ma¯yanfi as reveal their alignment with a particularly intriguing yet neglected feature of the cultural, and perhaps political, history of India, namely, laughter in the face of convention. Cows are sacred but they are also fodder for newspaper cartoonists. Bhakti of both the Vaisfi nfi ava and S´a¯kta varieties has been the mainstay of Bengal’s religious life and has vastly influenced Bengali literature, but Bengalis tell the most outrageous jokes about bhaktas, and even gods and goddesses are not spared by folk humor. This comic deflation of themes and icons of gravity is the not inconsiderable contribution of twentiethcentury Bengali tellers of Ra¯ma tales to the reception of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in modern times.

appendix: the ra¯ ma¯yanfi a in bengali literature Ra¯ma¯yanfi as of Bengal Date



16th c.

Krfittiva¯sa Sfi asfifithivara Gan˙ga¯da¯s Sen & Dvija Durga¯ra¯m Madhusu¯dan Gosva¯mı¯ Candra¯vatı¯

Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Ra¯marasa¯yanfi a Ra¯ma¯yanfi a

17th c. 18th c. 18th c. 18th c. 18th c. 18th c. 18th c.? 18–19th c. 19th c.

Laksfi manfi a Bandoypa¯dhya¯ya Ra¯mmohan Jagadra¯ma & Ra¯mprasad Adbhuta¯ca¯rya Ra¯ma¯nanda Ghosh S´an˙kara Kavicandra Ra¯mgovinda Da¯s Balara¯ma Bandoypa¯dhya¯ya Raghunandan Gosva¯mı¯

Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Adbhuta Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Ra¯mlı¯la¯ Visfinfi upurı¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Ra¯ma¯yanfi a S´rı¯ Ra¯marasa¯yanfi a

14th c. 16th c.

Theme bhakti bhakti bhakti bhakti bhakti/ women’s fate bhakti bhakti bhakti bhakti bhakti bhakti bhakti bhakti bhakti

Note: For lists, surveys, and dates (some of them tentative), see Sen 1954, pp. 163–183, and Smith 1988, pp. 30–32.

Pa¯n˜ca¯li (Narrative Poems Recited Musically for Popular Entertainment) Date 19th c.



Dasharathi Ray Anonymous Anonymous Anonymous S´an˙karadeva

S´ri Ra¯macandrera Viva¯ha Ra¯mera Vanagamana o Sı¯ta¯haranfi a Sı¯ta¯ Anvesfianfi a Taranfi ¯ısena Vadha Adhya¯tma Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, and 6 narrative poems based on it, including Laksfimanera S´aktis´ela and Ra¯vanfi avadha

Note: D. C. Sen (1954, p. 183) reports finding “a large number” of narrative poems based on the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a popular in the villages of Bengal, and lists fifteen composed between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries.


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Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Bengali Fiction and Drama Based on the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Date 19th c.

Author Vidyasagar



Sita¯ra Vanava¯sa

Sı¯ta¯’s exile to the forest; shifts blame from Rama 19th c. Michael M. Datta Meghana¯davadha Ka¯vya The slaying of Meghana¯da; ra¯ksfiasas cast as heroes Vira¯ngana¯ Ka¯vya The story of Pramı¯la¯, Meghana¯da’s heroic wife 19–20th c. Rabindranath Tagore Va¯lmı¯ki Pratibha¯ Va¯lmı¯ki’s realization of his poetic powers; operatic form Ka¯lmrfigaya¯ Das´aratha’s hunting episode; operatic form 20th c. Sukumar Roy Laksfimanfi era S´aktis´ela Laksfi manfi a’s near-death at Ra¯vanfi a’s hand and his revival; mock-heroic play for children 20th c. Parashuram “Hanuma¯nera Svapna” Hanuma¯n’s attempt to find a wife; ironic view of heroism Smrfitikatha¯ S´u¯rpanakha¯ remembers the good times; humorous tale

The Candra¯vatı¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a The story is divided into three parts, the first of which begins with an account in six sections of Sı¯ta¯’s birth in Ra¯vanfi a’s household. Sı¯ta¯ is born to Ra¯vanfi a’s queen Mandodarı¯ when Mandodarı¯, horrified by Ra¯vanfi a’s cruel ways, takes the blood drawn by Ra¯vanfi a from the sages he torments and drinks it, mistaking it for poison, and conceives Sı¯ta¯. The poet describes the dissolute life of Ra¯vanfi a, who is made invincible to all except humans and monkeys by Brahma¯’s boon, and who tyrannizes the gods and sages. Sı¯ta¯ is born out of an egg that Mandodarı¯ delivers, which eventually falls into the hands of a fisherman, whose wife, Sata¯, names her after herself and presents her to King Janaka. In the last two sections of the first part, Ra¯ma’s birth is described and also that of a new character called Kukuya¯, Kaikeyı¯’s daughter and Ra¯ma’s evil sister, who later engineers Ra¯ma’s harsh rejection of Sı¯ta¯ in the second part of the story. The responsibility for Ra¯ma’s action is thus passed on to Kukuya¯, a character who seldom appears in Ra¯ma stories from India but in many versions from Southeast Asia. In the second and highly poetic part of the story, Sı¯ta¯ recounts, first in brief summary, then at length, her life in King Janaka’s household, the events leading to her marriage with Ra¯ma, and her early life in Ayodhya¯, followed by a month-by-month description of the twelve months (“Sita¯ra Va¯roma¯sı¯”) of their exile, including their conjugal life, and then her abduction, the war, and her rescue. The third part describes life within the inner, women’s quarters, in the palace at Ayodhya¯ after the return of Ra¯ma, Sı¯ta¯, and Laksfi manfi a from Lan˙ka¯.

the ra¯ ma¯ yanfi a in bengali literature


At first they live happily but, envious of their happiness, Kukuya¯ devises a way to trick Sı¯ta¯ into drawing a picture of Ra¯vanfi a even though she had never actually seen him. Kukuya¯ brings Ra¯ma to see the drawing and arouses his suspicion that Sı¯ta¯ is still attached to Ra¯vanfi a. Ra¯ma’s fury robs him of judgment: raktajaba¯ a¯nkhi ra¯mera go ´sire rakta utfihe / na¯sika¯y agnisva¯s go brahmarandhra phutfie // Ra¯ma’s eyes turned red and his blood went to his head / He breathed fire and his head was boiling // He commands Laksfi manfi a to convey Sı¯ta¯ into banishment, which stuns her into disbelief when she learns of it from Laksfi manfi a. But she blames her own fate for her misfortune, which had also caused so many women to lose their husbands and sons in the war to rescue her from Ra¯vanfi a. She adds that the curse of these women is the cause of her suffering. Never blaming Ra¯ma, she volunteers to enter the final fire ordeal. When no one else is ready to start the fire, Kukuya¯ tries to do so but burns herself, and Sı¯ta¯ tries to comfort her. Sı¯ta¯ finally enters the fire, only to be taken away by her true mother, the earth, and Ra¯ma is left to lament his loss. notes 1. Krfittiva¯sa, 1954, p. 28. The episode occurs also in the Serampore edition of 1803, the first Krfittiva¯sı¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a to appear in print. It is omitted from the edition by Harekrishna Mukhopadhyaya (1958). ¯ yurvedic belief, 2. In introducing such an event, however, Krfittiva¯sa followed an A as mentioned in the Carakasam fi hita, which asserts that a child may be born out of a lesbian relationship but that the child would be deformed and boneless. I am grateful to Dr. Rahul Peter Das for drawing my attention to this information. Krfittiva¯sa introduces the story to illustrate the miracles that can be wrought by the gods and thus to validate bhakti. At the same time, by showing how incomplete human reproduction is if it is effected through mere female agency and without male contribution, the story further affirms the patriarchal mode in which the epic unfolds. We may further note that Bha¯gı¯ratha’s mothers have to rely upon male intervention for a cure of his deformity. 3. Krfittiva¯sa, p. 344. 4. Ray and Ray 2001, pp. 401–475. 5. As Candra¯vatı¯’s Ra¯ma¯yanfi a is decidedly the most original retelling of the ancient story in Bengali, a summary is appended to this essay. The text I have followed is Candra¯vatı¯ 1975. 6. S´an˙karadeva, quoted by Smith 1988, p. 99. 7. Datta, [1860] 1995, p. 33. 8. Vidyasagar, “Sı¯ta¯ra Vanava¯sa,” in S´akuntala¯ o Sı¯ta¯ra Vanava¯sa [1860] 1970. ¯ rmila¯, Laksfi 9. A gentle but uncompromising criticism of the virtual erasure of U manfi a’s wife, in the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a was made by Rabindranath Tagore in an essay written in 1900 and titled “Ka¯vyer Upeksfi ita¯” (Tagore 1974, 5: 548–555). Tagore argues that her abandonment by her husband cannot be any less shocking than Sı¯ta¯’s fate, and that it


mandakranta bose

imputes an inhuman exaltation of a narrow understanding of duty above human sympathies at the same time as it suggests a failure of imagination on the part of the poet. 10. D. Ray 1997, p. 51, verse 137. 11. Ibid., p. 56, verse 219. 12. Ibid., p. 114, verse 194. 13. This pen name was not deliberately chosen to express an iconoclastic persona, as one might assume from Bose’s frequently satirical writings, but was apparently borrowed from a fruitseller who happened to be present when Bose and a friend were casting about for a pseudonym. 14. This and all other references to the play are to Ray 1987. 15. A ready example comes from Ray’s own work, a farce for children called Jhalapala (Cacophony). One of several parallels from popular literature is the bumbling zamindar hero of humorous stories by the mid-twentieth-century writer Shibram Chakravarty. 16. na hi yuddhena me ka¯ryam ˙ naiva pra¯nfi air nfi a sı¯taya¯ / bhra¯taram ˙ nihatam ˙ laksfimanfi am ˙ ranfi apa¯m ˙ susfiu // Va¯lmı¯ki, 1971, sarga 89, verse 7; ra¯jyadhane ka¯rya na¯i, na¯hi ca¯i Sı¯te, Krfittivs¯a, 1957, Lan˙ka¯ka¯nfi dfi a, p. 352. 17. Rajshekhar Bose 1973b. 18. As he does in the Krfittiva¯sı¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a (1958), p. 422, though not for the same reason as in Bose’s story. In the Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a of the Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a (1975), he gets the boon from Ra¯ma (sarga 39, verses 16–19). 19. Stewart and Dimock 2001. 20. For a tongue-in-cheek confirmation of the Bengali disregard for Ra¯ma, we may look again at Rajshekhar Bose’s essay, “Gandhama¯dan Baitfihak” (1973a), in which seven legendary immortals, including Hanuma¯n and Vibhı¯sfi anfi a, meet on Gandhama¯dan mountain to review the current state of the world. Hanuma¯n reports that Ra¯ma is worshiped everywhere in India except Bengal. 21. Richman 1991, p. xi. 22. Richman 2001.

references Bose, Rajshekhar [Parashuram]. 1946 [1353 ban˙ga¯bda]. Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Calcutta: M. C. Sarkar. Bose, Rajshekhar [Parashuram]. 1973a [ban˙ga¯bda 1380]. “Gandhama¯dan Baitfihak.” In Paras´ura¯m Grantha¯balı¯. Vol. 2. Calcutta: M. C. Sarkar. ———. 1973b [ban˙ga¯bda 1380]. “Hanuma¯ner Svapna.” In Paras´ura¯m Grantha¯balı¯. Vol. 3. Calcutta: M. C. Sarkar. Candra¯vatı¯. 1975. Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. In Pra¯cı¯na Pu¯rvavan˙ga Gı¯tika¯, edited by Ksh*tish Chandra Moulik. Vol. 7. Calcutta: Firma K. L. Mukhopadhyaya. Datta, Michael Madhusudan. [1860] 1965. Madhusu¯dan Grantha¯balı¯, edited by Khsetra Gupta. Calcutta: Sahitya Sansad. Krfittiva¯sa. 1954 [ban˙ga¯bda 1361]. Saptaka¯nfi dfi a Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Edited by Benimadhab Sil. Calcutta: Akshay Library. ———. 1957. Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Edited by Harekrishna Mukhopadhyaya, with an introduction by Sunitikumar Chattopadhyaya. Calcutta: Sahitya Samsad. Nag, Sujitkumar, ed. 1987. [ban˙ga¯bda 1394]. Sukuma¯r Bicitra¯. Calcutta: New Book Supply Agency. Parashuram. See Rajshekhar Bose.

the ra¯ ma¯ yanfi a in bengali literature


Ray, Dasharathi. 1997. Da¯´sarathı¯ Ra¯yera Pa¯n˜ca¯lı¯. Edited by Ardhendushekhar Ray. Calcutta: Mahesh Library. Ray, Jagadram, and Ramprasad Ray. 2001. Ra¯mprasa¯dı¯ Jagadra¯mı¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Edited by Nirmalendu Mukhopadhyaya. 3rd ed. Calcutta: Mahesh Library. Ray, Sukumar. 1987 [banfi ga¯bda 1394]. Laksfimanfi era S´aktis´ela. In Sukuma¯rRa¯ya Racana¯samagra, edited by Shyamapada Sarkar. Calcutta: Kamini Prakasalaya, pp. 256– 67. Raychoudhury, Upendra Kishore. [c. 1894] 1995. Cheleder Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Calcutta: Nirmal Book Agency. Richman, Paula, ed. 1991. Many Ra¯ma¯yanfi as. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. ———. 2001. Questioning Ra¯ma¯yanfi as. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Sen, Dinesh Chandra. 1954. History of Bengali Language and Literature. Calcutta: University of Calcutta. Sengupta, Subodhchandra. 1976 [ban˙ga¯bda 1383]. Ha¯syarasik Paras´ura¯m. Calcutta: A. Mukherjee. Smith, William. 1988. Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Traditions in Eastern India: Assam, Bengal, Orissa. Stockholm: Department of Indology, University of Stockholm. Stewart, Tony K., and Edward C. Dimock. 2001. “Krfittiba¯sa’s Apophatic Critique of Ra¯ma’s Kingship.” In Questioning Ra¯ma¯yanfi as, edited by Paula Richman. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, pp. 229–249. Tagore, Rabindranath. 1974. Rabindra Racana¯valı¯. Vol. 5. Calcutta: Visva Bharati. Va¯lmı¯ki. 1960–1975. Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a: A Critical Edition. 7 vols. Baroda: Oriental Institute. Vol. 6, Yuddhaka¯nfi dfi a, edited by P. L. Vaidya, 1971. Vol. 7, Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a, edited by U. P. Shah, 1975. Vidyasagar, Ishwarchandra. [1860] 1970. S´akuntala¯ o Sı¯ta¯ra Vanava¯sa, Edited by Ujjal Kumar Majumdar. Calcutta: Sanyal.

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5 Why Can’t a Shudra Perform Asceticism? S´ambu¯ka in Three Modern South Indian Plays Paula Richman Among the deeds for which Ra¯ma has been most roundly condemned in south India, the beheading of S´ambu¯ka is preeminent.1 The earliest recounting of the shudra’s death at the hands of Ra¯ma, as punishment for practicing asceticism, appears in the Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a (last book) of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a attributed to Va¯lmı¯ki. Most scholars view the final book as a later interpolation, but whether it dates from Va¯lmı¯ki’s time or somewhat later, it soon became part of the ongoing Ra¯ma¯yanfi a tradition.2 Subsequent writers, most notably eighthcentury playwright Bhavabhu¯ti in his Uttarara¯macarita, have expressed profound unease with Ra¯ma’s willingness—allegedly for the sake of upholding dharma—to take the life of a person whose only misdeed was performing religious austerities.3 This essay examines three twentieth-century plays about S´ambu¯ka from south India, in Telugu, Tamil, and Kannada, respectively. Each of the three playwrights “sets the record straight” about S´ambu¯ka’s desire to perform asceticism, doing so in light of the beliefs that are central to his own experience. Although all three condemn the prohibition against a shudra performing asceticism, each author re-envisions the motivations of the story’s characters in his own way. The earliest version of S´ambu¯ka’s story, in the Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a attributed to Va¯lmı¯ki, is quite brief. It relates how a brahman comes to the court of Ra¯ma carrying the body of his dead son, who expired without any apparent cause. The father protests that such an inauspicious event would never happen in a land where the king insures that each citizen performs varnfi a¯s´ramadharma (duty enjoined according to one’s social rank and stage of


paula richman

life). When Ra¯ma consults his ministers about the matter, they identify a deviation from dharma: a shudra named S´ambu¯ka has been practicing tapas, a form of religious austerity reserved for members of the upper three varnfi as. Immediately, Ra¯ma mounts his celestial chariot, rushes to the forest where S´ambu¯ka dwells, and questions him. Upon learning that he is a shudra, Ra¯ma draws his gleaming, stainless sword and cuts off his head. “Well done!” shout the gods in praise. The brahman’s son returns to life, and fragrant flowers rain down in celebration, a sign of celestial approbation.4 Between 1920 and 1954, in sharp contrast, three influential south Indian playwrights analyzed below responded to S´ambu¯ka’s beheading not with approval but with horror. Significantly, each of the three would be considered a “shudra” according to brahmanical classifications, and each wrote in his own regional language (rather than Sanskrit or English).5 The three playwrights retold this tale from Ra¯ma¯yanfi a tradition to convey how they understood the story’s main characters: Ra¯ma, S´ambu¯ka, and the brahman whose son died. Although these writers entered into a relationship with the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a narrative, rather than abandoning it altogether, they insisted on renegotiating the framework within which the story should be understood. Each playwright envisioned the main characters differently, but all did so in a way that removed the stigma of adharma from S´ambu¯ka’s shoulders. The plays deserve our attention not only for the individual ways in which they rethink S´ambu¯ka’s asceticism but also for the insights they reveal about oppositional strands within Ra¯ma¯yanfi a tradition.6 The three S´ambu¯ka plays, and others of their type,7 offer narrative alternatives to depictions of S´ambu¯ka found in dominant tellings of Ra¯mkatha¯ that reinforce caste hierarchy. The playwrights examined here not only demonstrate how Ra¯mkatha¯ continues to be recounted in the modern period in light of topical issues,8 they also reflect vigorous protest against caste hierarchy in south India between 1920 and 1954. I explore three questions in my analysis of these three south Indian plays. First, when writers grapple with Ra¯ma’s beheading of S´ambu¯ka, what options exist for them (within or outside of Hindu tradition) that enable them to reenvision the incident? Second, what stance does each playwright take toward authoritative Hindu texts? Third, why does each text critique brahmanical caste prescriptions but not asceticism? Scholars often study the history of one regional literary tradition in India in isolation (such as Tamil literature separately from Kannada literature), and hence a text’s broader significance may be overlooked. In contrast, when dramas about the same incident, written in bordering regional languages, are placed side by side, a broader pattern emerges. In the southern region of the Indian subcontinent, the Hindu majority of the population would be categorized as “shudra” according to brahmanical classifications. Juxtaposing plays in Telugu, Tamil, and Kannada suggests how troubling Ra¯ma’s beheading of a shudra proved in twentieth-century south India.9 These plays also anticipate certain themes that have developed more fully in recent dalit literature.10

s´ ambu ¯ ka in modern south indian plays


Equality in Ascetic Practice The earliest of the three plays examined in this essay was written in Telugu by Tripuraneni Ramasvami Chaudari (1887–1943). Chaudari’s writings are among the earliest that explicitly interrogate the history of brahmans and nonbrahmans in the Andhra region. After Chaudari returned from higher studies in Ireland, where he trained as a barrister, he established himself as a journalist and social thinker. He wrote S´ambuka Vadha [The slaying of S´ambu¯ka] between 1914 and 1917, but the play did not appear in print until 1920. Although it was performed a few times, the play was primarily meant to be read rather than viewed in performance.11 Chaudari’s interpretation of S´ambu¯ka is based on the belief that all have the fundamental right to practice tapas, religious discipline that advances spiritual progress. Chaudari rejected Vedic rituals that necessitated brahman services in favor of religious practices such as asceticism, by which an individual could make spiritual progress through acts of self-discipline that included meditation and yoga. In fact, he eventually founded his own hermitage for the practice of asceticism.12 In the 1920s and 1930s, Chaudari advocated what we might today call “equal-opportunity” asceticism. Chaudari’s play identifies the brahmans in Ra¯ma’s court as those directly responsible for S´ambu¯ka’s death. In S´ambuka Vadha, Vasisfi fitha and his fellow brahmans persuade the As´vins, celestial physicians, to cause the temporary death of a young brahman boy in order to blame his death on S´ambu¯ka. By discrediting the shudra in this way, they seek to neutralize the threat his asceticism poses to brahmanical claims of religious superiority. The brahmanical conspiracy in Chaudari’s play fits with his view that brahmans had written religious law books to legitimate their high position and justify the oppression of lower castes. A member of the (non-brahman) Kamma ja¯ti, Chaudari spent much of his life attacking brahman privilege and stripping away what he considered brahmanical accretions to Hindu texts. Using notions of racial difference brought to India by colonial anthropologists, he argued that Dravidians originally ruled south India, which was wrested away from them by Aryans who invaded from the north and subjugated those whom they conquered. Teaching the indigenous people that they were low caste helped to brainwash them into accepting their degraded status. Since brahmanical power rests on the authority vested in texts, S´ambuka Vadha engages in explicit evaluation of the categories by which religious works are classified. When Ra¯ma goes to the forest to investigate allegations against S´ambu¯ka, Ra¯ma finds the ascetic to be quite learned, so he invites S´ambu¯ka to debate the brahmans in his court. S´ambu¯ka knows, however, that unless he receives clear agreement from the brahmans that they will only draw upon valid sources of religious authority to substantiate their points, the power differential would be deeply in their favor from the debate’s beginning to end. So he makes acceptance of the offer contingent upon the condition that evidence be admissible only if drawn from s´ruti (not smrfiti). S´ambu¯ka defines s´ruti as


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divinely inspired texts (such as the Vedas and Upanisfi ads). He deauthorizes smrfiti, since he claims that brahmans wrote Dharmas´a¯stras to legitimate caste hierarchy and glorify their privileged status. Naturally, the brahmans reject S´ambu¯ka’s stipulation. Their refusal dramatizes Chaudari’s view that brahmans distorted the teachings of early Hindu scriptures to exclude nonbrahmans from religious equality. Suggesting that Ra¯ma is fallible and insecure, Chaudari portrays Ra¯ma as killing S´ambu¯ka out of fear that he will lose his power. His brahman ministers threaten that if Ra¯ma does not eliminate S´ambu¯ka, ordinary citizens will realize that people of any rank can attain the highest religious goals. If it becomes generally known that S´ambu¯ka has successfully challenged religious exclusivism, the power base of brahmans and kshatriyas will be destabilized, making it impossible for them to continue to dominate the social order.13 The priests warn Ra¯ma that even he depends upon brahmans to maintain his position because brahmans perpetuate the notion that Kingship is divinely sanctioned. Ultimately, Ra¯ma slays S´ambu¯ka either out of fear or because he is politically sagacious enough not to risk undermining a brahman and kshatriya alignment that has maintained its power for centuries. Chaudari’s interpretation of Ra¯ma’s motivation raises doubts about Ra¯ma’s status. If he were actually the epitome of dharma, Ra¯ma would not have killed S´ambu¯ka, because a virtuous person would not murder to maintain his status. Also, if it is virtuous to perform tapas, S´ambu¯ka should not be barred from it simply because of his lowcaste birth. Ultimately in S´ambuka Vadha, Ra¯ma appears weak and easily manipulated by brahmans. S´ambu¯ka, on the other hand, dies a heroic death, a martyr to the struggle for universal access to asceticism. His commitment to religious austerities is impeccable. In addition, his dichotomy between s´ruti and smrfiti is a longstanding and recognized distinction in Hindu religious discourse. In S´ambuka Vadha, S´ambu¯ka’s actions earn respect from other non-brahmans (Chaudari calls them Dravidians), whom he rallies to fight for the right to perform tapas. In Chaudari’s portrayal, he idealizes the self-discipline and compassion shown by non-brahman S´ambu¯ka, contrasting it with the behavior of brahmans: intrigue, protection of privilege, and incitement to murder. As final proof of S´ambu¯ka’s goodness, when Ra¯ma does slay S´ambu¯ka, the ascetic ascends immediately to heaven.14 Chaudari’s play “corrects” Va¯lmı¯ki’s version, furnishing S´ambu¯ka with the reputation he should have earned: that of a great ascetic and a person knowledgeable in religious wisdom. S´ambuka Vadha prompted many to take a closer look at both Ra¯ma’s story and their own assumptions about Ra¯ma’s character. The beheading of S´ambu¯ka seemed to contradict the fundamental message of Ra¯ma’s love for all creatures. If Ra¯ma were truly compassionate, Chaudari reasoned that S´ambu¯ka’s story must have been added, or at least distorted at some point, by those who felt threatened by the desire of lower castes to appropriate religious practices of upper castes. Since Chaudari assumes that brahmans have tampered with the text, he imagines and portrays what he thinks S´ambu¯ka would have said and done if his voice and experience had not been removed from the story.

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S´ambuka Vadha proved so controversial that it became the object of discussion throughout Andhra Pradesh. Although many plays make little impact upon public life, Chaudari’s drama provoked debate throughout the Teluguspeaking region. Many traditionally minded devotees of Ra¯ma found Chaudari’s play appalling. As Narayana Rao recounts, “For almost ten years this unconventional presentation faced stiff resistance. The author persisted, arguing in favor of his position in town after town.” This was no mere “academic” argument, nor were the arguments limited to a few literary critics: “There were serious discussions in town halls, clubs and restaurants, bar-rooms of district courts, the press, and most importantly within literary gatherings.”15 These discussions helped to bring a relatively minor Ra¯ma¯yanfi a character into public consciousness. Those who might never have pondered S´ambu¯ka’s fate in the past now heard arguments about him in every town. Chaudari’s play brought a little-known character into the spotlight and convinced many people that he deserved sympathy as a noble ascetic slain to maintain caste privilege.

S´ambu¯ka as Rationalist A more extreme attack on Ra¯ma’s treatment of S´ambu¯ka appears in the 1954 play titled Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Na¯fitakam [Ra¯ma¯yanfi a drama] by Thiruvarur K. Thangaraju, a Tamil journalist, playwright, and actor. In the late 1940s, he left Congress to join E. V. Ramasami’s social reform group, the Dravida Kazhagam (the Dravidian federation). Viewing a Ra¯ma¯yanfi a performance by a drama troupe in Madras in 1950, Thangaraju radically disagreed with their portrayal of Ra¯ma’s story and determined to write his own version of the play. After reading a number of books in Tamil on the subject, he composed Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Na¯fitakam, which was performed both in Madras and on tour throughout Tamilnadu between 1954 and 1958.16 Thangaraju composed his play under the influence of his mentor, E. V. Ramasami. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Ramasami lectured across Tamilnadu, advocating proportional representation of non-brahman groups in government, abolition of caste hierarchy, and rejection of rituals based on purity and impurity. Along with atheism, he preached an ideology that (like Chaudari) identified brahmans as Aryans who, supported by kshatriya might, subjugated and mentally enslaved Dravidians. He condemned religion in general, which he viewed as a combination of superstition and priestly privilege, and urged his followers to embrace scientific thought and to cultivate egalitarianism and self-respect. He attacked the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a story specifically, claiming its account of Ra¯ma’s defeat of Ra¯vanfi a really portrayed the Aryan conquest of Dravidians. Ramasami endorsed Thangaraju’s play, giving him a silver cup and Rs. 2000 at the play’s debut and writing an appreciative preface to the published version.17 Much of Thangaraju’s originality as a playwright lies in the creative ways he dramatizes Ramasami’s critique of Ra¯ma: Ramasami lambasted Ra¯ma as a coward who appropriated the lands of Dravidians, and then humiliated the


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people he conquered. Such a critique poses a number of challenges for a dramaturge. Thangaraju re-envisions the whole epic in light of three actions performed by Ra¯ma: slaying Va¯li in the back while hiding behind a tree, directing Laksfi manfi a to mutilate S´u¯rpanakha¯ when she expressed love for him, and beheading S´ambu¯ka. Thangaraju portrays Va¯li, S´u¯rpanakha¯, and S´ambu¯ka as Dravidians whom brahmanical tradition labeled “low caste” because they did not support Ra¯ma’s invasion of the Dravidian kingdom. Although Thangaraju’s play deals with the full Ra¯ma¯yanfi a epic rather than just the S´ambu¯ka incident, my analysis below focuses on that incident. Chaudari and Thangaraju represent S´ambu¯ka’s asceticism so differently primarily because the two playwrights held radically differing assessments of the nature of religion. Thangaraju and Chaudari both share the Aryan vs. Dravidian view of south Indian history, and both depict S´ambu¯ka as intelligent, articulate, and self-assured. Chaudari, however, glorifies S´ambu¯ka’s spiritual attainments in yogic discipline. As an atheist, Thangaraju did not possess the same admiration for S´ambu¯ka’s achievements in bodily mortification. Whereas Chaudari’s play lauds S´ambu¯ka’s performance of tapas, Thangaraju instead organizes his depiction of the incident so that he can highlight the persuasive logic of S´ambu¯ka’s reasoning as he explains to Ra¯ma why one must reject the notion that “shudra” functions as a meaningful or valid form of classification. In Thangaraju’s depiction of S´ambu¯ka, the playwright provides his shudra hero with speeches that sound remarkably like those of E. V. Ramasami. Both the real-life mentor and the fictional shudra ascetic suggest that one should look to education and design of the natural world, rather than brahmanically disseminated Dharmas´a¯stras, to determine the principles that govern existence. Thangaraju makes it a point in his play to portray brahmans as using their scriptures to justify both their claim to exclusive power and their attack on anyone who questions their monopoly. When pressed to justify S´ambu¯ka’s killing, the brahmans can only quote from the legal treatises on dharma, texts that fall under the category of smrfiti. For example, in Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Na¯fitakam, when Ra¯ma hears complaints that S´ambu¯ka is performing asceticism, he asks, “Is it an error for a person to perform tapas?” The brahmans respond that such behavior is prohibited in religious texts: priest 1 Shall our pure texts emerge from the mouth of a shudra? O Ra¯ma! No wonder brahmans are in danger during your rule (ra¯j). Why do you just sit there staring? priest 2 Lord! Our smrfitis warn that it is a sin (pa¯pam) if shudras hear our Vedic texts, so one must pour red hot melted lead in their ears. priest 1 Lord, our Vedas say that if shudras learn Vedic s´a¯stras, their tongues must be cut off. And it is said that S´ambu¯ka violated both rules. Alas for him!18 In this quote, there is no argument that E. V. Ramasami would judge persuasive in defense of prohibiting a shudra from performing asceticism. Instead of providing any independent justification (that is, reasoning not dependent

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upon the status of authoritative texts) for the prohibition, the priests refer to what the “pure texts” say, or cite s´a¯stras. The answer boils down to brahmans saying that brahmanical texts do not allow such behavior. Furthermore, the scriptural passages to which the quote refers prescribe heinous punishments for those who do not act in conformity with s´a¯stras. If a shudra hears brahmanical texts, his ears must be burned so that he can never hear again. Similarly, if he quotes from brahmanical texts, his tongue must be severed so he loses the ability to speak. In each case, the punishment insures that the shudra can never again disseminate knowledge to which he is forbidden access. By similar logic, S´ambu¯ka must be put to death because he studied scriptures on tapas; he must never do so again, nor must other shudras imitate him. When the brahmans, at Ra¯ma’s request, consult the constitutional palm leaves of Ra¯mra¯j, they specify death as punishment for a shudra who transgresses textual prohibitions.19 In such a situation, S´ambu¯ka has no recourse. Thangaraju was born into the Vellala community, a prestigious ja¯ti of dominant landholding non-brahmans whom brahmans nonetheless rank as “shudras.” When the priest asks “Shall our pure texts emerge from the mouth of a shudra?”20 the statement is self-reflexive: Thangaraju, whom brahmans would categorize as a shudra, has—as he emphasized in his 1992 interview with me—heard and studied Hindu scripture. In fact, in these very lines of his play, he has appropriated the privilege of quoting scripture, something that—according to the constitutional palm leaves—would earn him death. Not surprisingly, in Thangaraju’s play S´ambu¯ka gets all the best lines. When Ra¯ma, accompanied by Laksfi manfi a and a host of vicious brahmans, confronts S´ambu¯ka and accuses him of violating dharma, S´ambu¯ka is puzzled. The shudra ascetic replies in a calm, cogent, and persuasive manner, drawing upon scientific discourse to demonstrate that Ra¯ma is acting upon erroneous assumptions: For the sake of whom was the law written and instituted, Lord? Did God create brahmans and shudras in his creation? Look at the animals that he created in nature. Whatever you do to change a dog, can you make it a lion? Can you make a tiger into a goat? The structures of differing body parts are elements of nature. Deceitful are those who have classified human beings, claiming similar differences in human varnfi as. Are there any natural differences—that is, differing body parts—between the brahman and the shudra, like those between the goat and the tiger or the lion and the small dog? Lord, that is God’s work. This is rogue’s work. Which will you accept, Respected Sir? Just because a murderer, a drunkard, or a fool is born in the womb of a woman labeled a brahman, should he become a brahman? And only because a learned man, an exemplar, a highly cultivated man is born in the womb of a woman labeled a shudra, should he become a shudra? We are all born only as men. Eminence and lowliness are cre-


paula richman ated through one’s own actions. That is how things must occur. This is the only law of nature, the law that God instituted. How can you label as law the books and Vedas, written and instituted in opposition to God’s law for the sake of dishonest people who have forgotten the nature of God’s creation?21

Here S´ambu¯ka provides a short science lesson for the king, explicating the genetic basis for distinctions between species and, conversely, the lack of any scientific basis for the differentiation between castes. Note that S´ambu¯ka dismisses the religious prohibitions found in the Vedas and s´a¯stras as written “for the sake of dishonest people” and recommends instead that people be guided by the laws one can see in nature. Interrupting S´ambu¯ka’s speech at this point, Ra¯ma seems to concede that ´Sambu¯ka’s argument has some validity. He begins his response with, “However much truth there is in what you say”; he continues, nonetheless, “you have still broken the law and deserve punishment.” As Ra¯ma then beheads him, the brahmans cheer. The S´ambu¯ka episode in Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Na¯fitakam is one of the most intense, disturbing, and effectively scripted incidents in the play. Although the early parts of Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Na¯fitakam have many humorous moments, including scenes that mock Ra¯ma by portraying him as addicted to celestial ambrosia (liquor) and so frightened of face-to-face battles that he hides behind a tree,22 Ra¯ma’s interactions with the shudra ascetic take on a tragic tone as noble S´ambu¯ka is slain. E. V. Ramasami once declaimed, in light of S´ambu¯ka’s beheading, “If there were kings like Ra¯ma now, what would be the fate of those people called shudras?”23 The question has a particular edge in Tamilnadu because in many areas where Ramasami was active, the varnfi a structure is far more attenuated than in other parts of India: in Tamilnadu, according to brahmanical reckoning, the major caste divisions are: brahmans, “clean” shudras, “unclean” shudras, and untouchables. So only brahmans fit the s´a¯stras’ category of “twice-born” varnfi as who can perform asceticism, while a high percentage of the Tamil population (except in Tanjore District)24 would be classified as shudras or lower, including the dominant landholding ja¯ti of Vellalas. It is not surprising, then, that most of those who attended Thangaraju’s play identified strongly with S´ambu¯ka and the tragedy of his death. Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Na¯fitakam received wide exposure throughout Tamilnadu. After its initial five-week run in Madras, the cast toured the state with several truckloads of theatrical props and costumes, performing in town theaters or thatched village huts between 1954 and 1958. As a result, both urban and rural audiences saw the play. Throughout the 1950s, Ramasami’s Dravida Kazhagam held conferences, gave public lectures, released publications, and participated in public protests against caste hierarchy. Its activities provided Tamilians with an intellectual framework within which they could place S´ambu¯ka’s death scene, while their own experiences of caste prejudice helped them empathize with S´ambu¯ka. Historical evidence confirms that many considered the play offensive.

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When it opened in Madurai, orthodox Hindus lodged complaints with the police. In Karur some “rowdies” interrupted the play and prevented it from continuing; when the case was subsequently taken up in the Madras court, the judge decreed that police should have arrested those who disrupted the play. In Tirucchirappali, the actor playing Ra¯ma was forcibly dragged off the stage.25 Atal Behari Vajpayee, the present prime minister of India, even complained about the production in parliament, but Jawaharlal Nehru responded to Vajpayee’s outrage by answering that the treatment of S´ambu¯ka was an atrocity and should be presented as such. Politician and writer C. Rajagopalachari formed a “Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Protection Society” after reading the play.26 Nearly twenty years later, Thangaraju revived the play, playing Ra¯vanfi a himself in Tanjore for a Dravida Kazhagam conference that he estimates was attended by over ten thousand people. In 1971–1972, The Organiser condemned the play.27 Because of these many performances, as well as the play’s condemnation and involvement in litigation, the morality of S´ambu¯ka’s beheading played a crucial role in the debate about brahman vs. non-brahman relations throughout Tamilnadu.

Transforming a Brahman In the mid-1940s, S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯ [The Shudra ascetic] was published in Kannada. Its author, K. V. “Kuvempu” Puttappa (1904–1994) enjoyed an extraordinarily successful career as a writer and public intellectual in Karnataka.28 Padma Bhushana recipient and vice-chancellor of Mysore University, he was among the most successful, prominent, and respected “shudras” of his day and the first to rise so high in the university system of Karnataka. In stark contrast to both Chaudari and Thangaraju, Kuvempu was an ardent devotee of Ra¯ma. His belief in Ra¯ma’s compassion informs both his lengthy poem on Ra¯mkatha¯ and his short play on S´ambu¯ka, S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯. Kuvempu states his perspective on innovation within Ra¯ma¯yanfi a tradition in his major work on Ra¯mkatha¯, a monumental lyric poem of 23,000 lines entitled S´rı¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Dars´anam. Near the beginning of this poem, which won him a Sahitya Akademi award in 1955, Kuvempu explains how he situates himself in relation to Ra¯ma¯yanfi a tradition: It is not correct to say that Va¯lmı¯ki is the only Ra¯ma¯yanfi a poet. There are thousands of Ra¯ma¯yanfi a poets. There is a Ra¯ma¯yanfi a poet in every village.29 His words indicate that Kuvempu did not feel compelled to be “faithful” to Va¯lmı¯ki’s text. Instead, Kuvempu sought to present Ra¯mkatha¯ in a way faithful to his own vision of Ra¯ma’s goodness. A deeply religious man, Kuvempu was influenced at an early age by the teachings of the Ramakrishna Mission and later became an adherent of Aurobindo’s metaphysics. At the heart of his religious beliefs were commitment


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to ahimsa¯ (nonviolence) and love of Lord Ra¯ma. The combination of nonviolence and devotion accounts for several unusual features of Kuvempu’s treatment of Ra¯mkatha¯. For example, in his lyric poem, he omits Hanuma¯n’s burning of Lan˙ka¯ because Kuvempu did not believe that Hanuma¯n would cause the death of so many innocent people. Furthermore, Ra¯ma not only admits that he was mistaken in killing Va¯li but even undergoes the fire ordeal alongside Sı¯ta¯. In a nutshell, Kuvempu’s Ra¯ma would not—could not—kill S´ambu¯ka.30 Instead, the rising action in S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯ impels the play toward the moment when the brahman, who has accused S´ambu¯ka of deviating from dharma, undergoes a radical transformation. Fairly early in the play, Ra¯ma realizes that the brahman is a “bigoted pedant.”31 In S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯, therefore, Ra¯ma’s problem lies not with S´ambu¯ka but with the brahman who demands S´ambu¯ka’s execution. Ra¯ma must find a way to help the brahman overcome his pride, freeing him then to appreciate the value of S´ambu¯ka’s asceticism. Unlike the other two plays we have examined, which pit a stock brahman villain against a stock shudra hero, several of Kuvempu’s main characters are not “stock” at all; over the course of the play, they learn and become transformed into different kinds of people. Most centrally, the brahman matures from an arrogant person enslaved by scripture into a balanced, thoughtful, and enlightened person. S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯ does not deal with caste issues in isolation. Instead, Kuvempu interrogates caste’s foundation in the purity/impurity dichotomy, from which both caste and gender hierarchy derive. Among major sources of pollution that brahmanical texts list, interactions with two categories of people are prohibited. A high-born male can be sullied by certain exchanges with people not born into the top three castes (such as shudras and untouchables). Also polluting to him are interactions with a woman of any caste who is menstruating or having sexual relations with a man other than her husband. S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯ suggests links between these two sources of pollution through Ra¯ma’s reflections upon an anthill. When Ra¯ma and the brahman arrive in the forest, the brahman points out S´ambu¯ka, who has remained motionless in deep meditation for such a long time that an anthill has grown up around him. Seeing it unleashes Ra¯ma’s remorse about Sı¯ta¯. Rumors that she became impure during her imprisonment in Lan˙ka¯ led Ra¯ma to rid his palace of even the slightest taint of impurity by banishing his pregnant wife to the forest. Rescued there by Va¯lmı¯ki, the ascetic poet who composed the first full literary Ra¯ma¯yanfi a and provided her with shelter in his ashram, Sı¯ta¯ raises her twin sons within its precincts. In a soliloquy, Rama ponders the fact that the poet’s name, Va¯lmı¯ki, is said to derive from valmı¯ka (anthill), a reference to the rigor of his austerities. Va¯lmı¯ki was also a shudra, Ra¯ma recalls: That reference to the anthill touches me to the quick by recalling the great poet

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who is today sheltering Sı¯ta¯. That poet too is a shudra like S´ambu¯ka. Born a hunter, he too achieved greatness through tapas.32 Ra¯ma considers the ironic fact that, at the moment when the brahman seeks to deprive S´ambu¯ka of the chance to perform tapas because he is “impure,” another shudra shelters the monarch’s pure wife, because Ra¯ma succumbed to fear that (unfounded) gossip would mar the reputation of his reign. Familiar with the circ*mstances of Sı¯ta¯’s banishment, Kuvempu’s audience would see that Ra¯ma’s treatment of Sı¯ta¯ and the brahman’s antagonism toward S´ambu¯ka both involve mistreatment of an innocent and virtuous person due to obsessive concern with purity. Immediately after his soliloquy, Ra¯ma begins a verbal duel with the brahman. Kuvempu’s stage directions instruct Ra¯ma to speak “ironically but seriously.” The weapon of choice is the epithet, a phrase expressing some quality possessed by the person being addressed. Each man uses a carefully chosen epithet to warn that the other must act according to precedents that set the standard for approved behavior. For example, Ra¯ma asks the brahman, “Isn’t tapas a holy practice?” The brahman first addresses him with the epithet “King of the Raghu Lineage,” thereby warning Ra¯ma to maintain his lineage’s unsullied prestige, before the brahman agrees that tapas is unequaled in virtue. Ra¯ma calls the brahman “Eminent among the Enlightened Ones,” emphasizing the priest’s mastery through tapas of the religious knowledge that cuts off rebirth and leads to enlightenment. This epithet implies the brahman should practice detachment rather than seek the ascetic’s death, since true enlightenment entails overcoming emotions such as hatred. The duel soon ratchets up to a higher level of intensity. Addressing the brahman as “One Who Knows Wisdom” to imply that he needs to abandon ignorance, Ra¯ma then inquires whether it would be a sin to kill a person who performs tapas. The brahman concedes that such a deed would be a sin but, in a surprising turn, addresses Ra¯ma as “Killer of Va¯li.” Ra¯ma deviated from the proper dharma of a warrior by shooting Va¯li in the back while hiding behind a tree, an act that is generally viewed as a blot on Ra¯ma’s otherwise relatively stainless record of virtuous action.33 Kuvempu portrays the brahman as implying, through his choice of this unexpected epithet, that to rid Ra¯ma’s kingdom of S´ambu¯ka Ra¯ma must again stoop as low as he did when he murdered Va¯li. Ra¯ma, barely suppressing his anger, demands to know whether it would be a sin to kill S´ambu¯ka. Addressing Ra¯ma as “Disciple of Vasisfi fitha” to remind Ra¯ma that his guru, Vasisfifitha, taught strict adherence to caste hierarchy, the brahman responds that one must look not to logic (tarka) but to s´a¯stras for the answer to Ra¯ma’s question. He adds, definitively, “Milk is sacred and nourishes life. But that doesn’t mean you can drink dog’s milk. A shudra’s tapas is like


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dog’s milk.”34 With tongue in cheek, Ra¯ma praises the brahman as “Great Teacher” and compliments him on his erudition, thereby implying that he is clever but lacks inner wisdom. How then, asks Ra¯ma, should he carry out the brahman’s demand that he execute the shudra? An ordinary arrow cannot kill a person who performs tapas, because meditation generates special protective power. The brahman, addressing Ra¯ma as “Subduer of Enemies,” urges that he resort to the deadly brahma¯stra, which he wielded when he fatally wounded Ra¯vanfi a. By offering this advice, the brahman implies that the devious, tyrannical, lustful demon king and the calmly meditating shudra deserve the same terrible fate. Ra¯ma notes that once the brahma¯stra is launched, it will not stop until its enemy is destroyed. Delighted, the brahman urges Ra¯ma to string his bow with the deadly missile. That a travesty of justice seems about to occur is signaled by the sudden arrival of an actor personifying Death. She demands to know why Ra¯ma intends to unleash the brahma¯stra, a terrible weapon of destruction. Ra¯ma replies only that it is necessary for Death to carry out the task before her, since “No one is exempt from doing one’s duty.” Perceiving that she must submit to his order, Death prepares to follow the brahma¯stra’s course. Ra¯ma then commands his weapon: “Seek out the sinner and destroy him!”35 Kuvempu’s stage directions at this point call for thunder, lightning, a dust storm, and tree branches to creak in the wind as if crying in anguish—all omens of impending doom. Yet the brahma¯stra embarks on an unexpected course, whose outcome absolves S´ambu¯ka of wrongdoing. Released from Ra¯ma’s bow, the weapon heads toward S´ambu¯ka, while Death follows obediently, but then it falls at the ascetic’s feet in respect. The bewildered brahman asks Ra¯ma whether the weapon has failed, but Ra¯ma assures him that it will soon find its mark. A moment later, the arrow turns and heads directly toward the brahman. In terror he seeks refuge from Ra¯ma, who warns him that he cannot save himself unless he can “open the eye of intellect.” The brahman rejects this call to use his power to reason, protesting that nothing that contravenes the s´a¯stras can be dharmic. At that moment a voice from the celestial realm chants in Sanskrit: Recourse to scriptures alone will not help decide the right deed. A thoughtless act can only do harm to dharma.36 Realization now dawns upon the brahman as the play reaches its turning point. The astonished but enlightened brahman then acknowledges: I have been hidebound, warped by the texts, blinded by prejudice. Does fire worry about the caste of its fuel? A sage is to be honored

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regardless of his birth. Humility leads to grace while scorn corrupts the soul.37 The power of these words brings the brahman’s son back to life. As they both venerate S´ambu¯ka and the sage extends to them his blessing, flowers rain down from the sky. Thus S´ambu¯ka does not die, nor does the brahman. The subjugation of the lethal weapon demonstrates the inarguable efficacy of S´ambu¯ka’s tapas. It halts the unstoppable weapon of death, confirming physically what the brahman has realized intellectually: that a shudra who practices asceticism is virtuous, whatever ancient texts say. In addition, at the symbolic level, the brahma¯stra did kill the sinner, because it destroyed the brahman’s bigotry. The play ends auspiciously, with S´ambu¯ka blessing everyone, the brahman enlightened, the child healthy, and Ra¯ma triumphant. Ra¯ma emerges from his debate and his archery, having proven himself virtuous, nonviolent, and a successful teacher. Not surprisingly, S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯ drew criticism when it was performed in 1944. Staged only a few times for a limited audience, it prompted a closely followed exchange in print between Kuvempu (1904–1994) and “Masti” Venkatesha Iyengar (1891–1986). Although both men were lionized as pioneers of early Kannada modern literature, famed as the first playwrights to compose Kannada drama in blank verse,38 and celebrated as Jnanpith Award winners, they could not have been more different in background and sensibility. Masti was a learned brahman, Kuvempu a learned shudra. Masti’s manner was weighty and magisterial, Kuvempu’s persevering and sincere. Masti reviewed Kuvempu’s play in the July 1944 issue of the literary journal he edited, Jı¯vana. Observing that Kuvempu introduced major changes into the story—especially its ending—Masti proclaims that, however we might judge S´ambu¯ka’s beheading today, Ra¯ma had fulfilled his dharma because he abided by the religious prescriptions of his time. With unmistakable defensiveness, Masti also blames Kuvempu for trying to rescue Ra¯ma’s reputation at the expense of denigrating a learned brahman. Cautioning Kuvempu to keep away from traditional mythological stories if he does not respect the behavior of virtuous people in ancient times, he declares that Kuvempu should use new genres if he wants to write about new ways. Masti expresses concern that the play might fuel animosity toward brahmans, thereby serving to widen the already existing gulf between brahmans and non-brahmans. In entering into debate with Masti, Kuvempu shouldered a heavy burden as the only shudra among the established Kannada writers of his time. Years later, pondering the implications of Masti’s critique in a 1991 article, Kannada novelist Poornachandra Tejasvi (Kuvempu’s son) noted that writers of Kuvempu’s generation viewed the composition of literature as an act of tapas.39 If Kuvempu had accepted Ra¯ma’s killing of the shudra ascetic as virtuous, in a sense he would be capitulating to Masti’s denial that Kuvempu had the right to perform a writer’s asceticism (tapas). From the perspective of Ra¯ma¯yanfi a


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tradition, one can develop the critique by Tejasvi one step further. In effect, brahman Masti is warning shudra Kuvempu that Ra¯ma’s story is off limits to him if he is presumptuous enough to question the legitimation of caste hierarchy found in dominant tellings of Ra¯mkatha¯. In fact, Kuvempu did not accept Masti’s prohibition against his retelling of “traditional stories.” Furthermore, Kuvempu explicitly rejected the notion that Va¯lmı¯ki’s Ra¯ma¯yanfi a was the only true one. Kuvempu viewed S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯ as a telling with as much validity as those of Va¯lmı¯ki and Bhavabhu¯ti, whose texts he had studied before composing his play. In his letter responding to Masti’s review, Kuvempu politely but firmly disagreed with Masti, countering that his play need not widen the gulf between high and low castes. Indeed, the play could foster greater awareness, enabling brahmans and non-brahmans to join together in creating a society in which scholarship, tapas, and education would receive the respect they deserved. In all subsequent editions of S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯, Kuvempu had the last word: he followed his play with Masti’s review and Kuvempu’s answer, allowing readers access to their debate. To sum up, in S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯’s final scene, Kuvempu departs most radically from all previous renditions of S´ambu¯ka’s story. Yet Kuvempu created an end to the play that he found true to his belief in Ra¯ma’s wisdom and compassion. On the one hand, the ending of S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯ rescues Ra¯ma from accusations that he killed S´ambu¯ka unjustly. On the other hand, the play offers an unprecedented ending. Kuvempu hoped to bring understanding to brahmans and new aspirations to shudras by depicting Ra¯ma as educating the ignorant and fostering respect for all ascetics. His belief in the power of education to transform the minds of human beings resulted, at least partly, from his own rigorous and persevering efforts as student, teacher, administrator, and writer in a university setting.

Kuvempu’s Story in Multiple Forms In the play’s preface, Kuvempu admits to dramatic shortcomings in S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯, stating that “the play is useless from the point of view of the theatre.”40 Several facts about the play support his assessment. The play consists of fairly long speeches uttered by a small set of all-male characters. Furthermore, it depicts the transformation of a character’s mind—not promising material for an action-oriented medium such as the stage. Then, too, there are no comic interludes or grand scenes of battle to vary the play’s texture. Nor does S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯ contain the songs, dances, and complexity of plot that people attending Kannada dramatic performances in the 1940s would have expected—whether in ritual dramas at festivals, spectacles mounted by traveling professional companies, or newly emerging social dramas enacted by groups at colleges.41 Finally, the play is shorter than most performances of its day. The appeal of the play can also be limited by the register of its language and the many lengthy speeches it contains. Written in a grandiloquent style that features Sanskritized vocabulary, complex word play, and phrases chosen

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for their musicality and rhythm, the play assumes the audience’s familiarity with high literary style. Kannada literary scholar and historian of theater G. Shivarudrappa considered S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯ so crucial a play that, to ensure that those who found some of the language daunting would still have access to it, he translated Kuvempu’s 1944 play into the form of Kannada used in ordinary speech. Aside from such an alternative, the consensus among most was that Kuvempu’s script worked better for readers than actors. That Kuvempu saw the play’s ideal audience as an extremely well-read person with the creativity to conjure up its incidents and characters in the mind’s eye is indicated by what Kuvempu wrote in his preface: “It [S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯] therefore has to be imaginatively visualized on the screen of your mind.” In sum, neither the register nor the long speeches made it a play that could be staged in a readily accessible way. Little more than half a century after Kuvempu wrote his play, Basavalingaiah, director of the Rangayana theatrical troupe in Mysore, conceptualized a compelling and original way to stage S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯. His production earned acclaim locally in Karnataka and later at the National School of Drama in Delhi as part of an Indian Theater Festival in 2001.42 His imaginative revisions made the play longer, involved a substantially larger cast than the original, and incorporated aspects of Kannada folk theater into the performance. Basavalingaiah, who was born into a dalit family, entered theater through—and became active in—the Kannada theater movement Samudaya, which used drama to spread messages about social change among the poor. His S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯ formed part of his long-standing commitment to making modern theater accessible to nonelite as well as elite audiences. Basavalingaiah demonstrates a power and topicality in S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯ that went largely unacknowledged when it was first performed in the forties. Basavalingaiah’s central innovation called for staging S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯ so that the audience experienced S´ambu¯ka’s story thrice in three different modes: as narrative recounted chorally, as song, and as enactment of Kuvempu’s scripted dialogues. The prose and musical renditions, which tell and comment upon the story, provide a framework within which those unschooled in elevated poetry can experience the story. An audience of modern colloquial English speakers unfamiliar with Shakespearean diction and vocabulary might more effectively savor some aspects of The Tempest, for example, if before hearing Shakespeare’s lines in a production they read a recounting of the play in today’s English and then heard sections of the original sung to popular musical tunes. Basavalingaiah gave his audience something similar.43 By recounting the story and commenting upon it in prose and song, the actors avoid excluding illiterate members of the audience from Kuvempu’s play. At the same time, those schooled to appreciate Kuvempu’s original dialogue can not only savor it but also reflect upon Kuvempu’s comments in his preface and enjoy the songs, which transform an otherwise somewhat staid play into a lively and memorable piece of theater. Basavalingaiah’s introduction of this material did not threaten the textual integrity of the 1944 play. Respectful of the playwright, Basavalingaiah added


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virtually no words to the performance except Kuvempu’s own.44 From Kuvempu’s preface, the director inserted Kuvempu’s summary of the story as attributed to Va¯lmı¯ki, his comments on how Bhavabhu¯ti revised the story in Uttarara¯macarita, and his explanation of why he told the story in a way that differed from both Va¯lmı¯ki and Bhavabhu¯ti. Basavalingaiah also drew upon extensive stage directions that Kuvempu placed at the beginning and end of scenes, as well as before certain speeches. The stage directions deal with topics such as the emotions felt by characters and the way certain props should appear.45 Ultimately, there was more Kuvempu on stage in Basavalingaiah’s 2001 production than in the 1944 version overseen by Kuvempu. Incorporating Kuvempu’s literary history of S´ambu¯ka’s story into his production allows Basavalingaiah to build self-reflexivity about Ra¯ma¯yanfi a tradition into his production. In Adhya¯tma Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, Sı¯ta¯ asks Ra¯ma, who has refused to let her accompany him to the forest, “Have you ever heard of a Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in which Sı¯ta¯ doesn’t accompany Ra¯ma to the forest?”46 Basavalingaiah’s incorporation of Kuvempu’s thoughts on Va¯lmı¯ki and Bhavabhu¯ti too encourages reflection on alternate tellings of Ra¯mkatha¯ while the audience is in the midst of Kuvempu’s recounting. Including discussion of the two literary predecessors who greatly influenced Kuvempu also brings the production into compliance with Kuvempu’s foundational principle that Va¯lmı¯ki’s telling is not the sole one that the audience should take into account. By giving the audience insights that otherwise would only be accessible to readers of Kuvempu’s preface, the director allows others access to Kuvempu’s metacommentary on the S´ambu¯ka incident in the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a tradition. The play begins with sections of Kuvempu’s preface spoken by a primarily female chorus. This chorus reflects Kuvempu’s point that ranking people based on a dichotomy between purity and pollution oppressed both Sı¯ta¯ and S´ambu¯ka (see Ra¯ma’s soliloquy quoted above). By casting mostly women in the chorus, Basavalingaiah incorporates gender issues more visibly into the fabric of a play whose characters are all male.47 As one member of the chorus recalls, “Basavalingaiah had told us often that the most suppressed people in our society are women, especially untouchable women. So it is appropriate that they should be part of the storytelling in this play.”48 Basavalingaiah chose a performance style for the chorus that serves to intensify the exploration of the relationship between caste and asceticism so central to S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯. The costumes, song patterns, and gestures come from the Jogatis of Karnataka, a group composed mostly of women or hijras (eunuchs) who are staunch devotees of Yarlamma.49 To incorporate just any chorus would be arbitrary. In contrast, Jogatis are shudra women who have renounced marriage or hijras who have renounced male sex roles. The renunciatory features that characterize this performance style make it particularly suited to the content and characters in S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯. Basavalingaiah’s use of Jogati style reiterates the major theme of the play: the Jogatis are shudras, as S´ambu¯ka and Kuvempu were. In addition, both S´ambu¯ka and the devotees of Yarlamma practice tapas, the subject of the play. Basavalingaiah weaves into S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯ theatrical devices from two other

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folk traditions in Karnataka. He draws upon somana kunita, a performance style using oversize masks, in his costumes for the character of Death, as well as her chorus of minions. The huge, grotesque, and terrifying masks make visible the lethal risk that S´ambu¯ka has taken in performing tapas. Basavalingaiah also draws upon yakshagana, a form of dance drama that depicts fierce warriors fighting with deadly weapons. Basavalingaiah draws upon yakshagana’s sophisticated and intricate footwork and stylized whirling body movements to choreograph Ra¯ma’s actions, particularly as he prepares to launch his brahma¯stra. In both cases, Basavalingaiah uses multiple staging styles judiciously to intensify or enrich what already exists in Kuvempu’s script. Analysis of a specific theatrical device drawn from yakshagana shows how Basavalingaiah’s choice serves not as a gimmick or add-on but as a means to reveal a heretofore hidden aspect of characterization. From yakshagana, Basavalingaiah borrows a specific staging feature: a large piece of cloth that prevents an actor from being seen by the audience while on stage behind it. In S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯, the cloth works to separate from each other (in time and space) the two actors who play the brahman, so that only one of them can be seen by the audience at any given time. To bring the second person playing the brahman onto the stage, two men walk on stage at either side of a person-size piece of cloth, concealing an actor who walks behind it. When they reach the point where they want the hidden actor to appear, the men turn slightly parallel to the audience and begin to walk in a circle. Consequently, the actor who has played the brahman until this point eventually disappears behind the cloth and a new brahman becomes visible to the audience, seeming to emerge from behind the other side of the cloth. What is the payoff of this theatrical device? The first brahman, who approached Ra¯ma early in the play to have his son’s death avenged, appears frail and anguished, his hair shaven and his body shrunken from fasting and mourning for his dead son. Because the brahman had experienced such devastating loss, the viewer occasionally felt sympathy for the father despite his ignorance and pride. In contrast, the brahman whom the cloth discloses is altogether different: tall, broad, and muscular with knee-length dark hair unbound and whirling about him like a vengeful demon. He appears menacing, arrogant, and brutal. As this brahman gleefully waits for the brahma¯stra to end S´ambu¯ka’s life, the whole apparatus of caste hierarchy is revealed—treachery and its power. Basavalingaiah represents brahmanism as an institution, one that insures that shudras who do not stay in their place die by the hand of the king. By having two actors on view at different times with the aid of the revolving cloth, the play impresses upon the viewer that brahmanism is both a collection of brahmans and a repressive institution of social discipline, whose values ordinary people internalize. S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯’s self-reflexivity appears most strikingly when the women’s chorus at the beginning of the play refers directly to Basavalingaiah’s innovative staging. There the chorus draws from Kuvempu’s preface, in which he acknowledges that the play has certain shortcomings from the staging perspective, and the chorus members acknowledge that in 1944 modern Kannada


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theater did not possess the dramatic resources to do full justice to S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯. In contrast, the chorus proclaims that today modern Kannada theater can finally stage S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯ in a way that brings out the subtleties of Kuvempu’s work. This feat is made possible because the play has been formed out of multiple dramatic styles from what the actors in Rangayana call “our own theatrical traditions of Karnataka.” Instead of “dumbing down” a play that many found inaccessible, Basavalingaiah enriched it, using the cultural capital of Kannada folk tradition. He drew upon the regional dramatic tradition not like a tourist seeking local color but like Kuvempu’s heir seeking a way to enhance the visibility of dramatic styles often marginalized by brahmanical hegemony in religious and cultural spheres. Basavalingaiah thereby enabled Kuvempu’s spirit and script to reach a much wider audience in the early years of the new millennium than it had in 1944.

Conclusion This essay has analyzed the cultural work performed by three plays about S´ambu¯ka in three south Indian languages. These plays have received limited scholarly attention individually, and none as a group. Yet each play’s interpretation of S´ambu¯ka’s death, as well as the controversies surrounding the play’s reception, fostered striking public debate about caste and asceticism. The reception of these plays demonstrates how dramatically a particular Ra¯ma¯yanfi a incident carried deep political resonances and evoked strong responses from members of the audience who identified with or felt threatened by various characters in Ra¯mkatha¯ during the period between 1920 and 1954. During this historical period, when anti-brahman movements were gaining momentum, especially in Andhra and Tamilnadu but to a lesser extent in Karnataka too, all three plays see the attack on S´ambu¯ka as instigated, in some way or another, by brahmans. Even though the S´ambu¯ka episode is short, selfcontained, and fairly incidental to the overall plot of Ra¯mkatha¯, between the 1920s and 1950s it was intensely scrutinized and debated in south India. At least part of this incident’s notoriety stems from its seemingly irrefutable example of Ra¯ma’s perfidy; in pro-Dravidian discourse it functions to prove that Ra¯ma murdered low-caste people and suppressed their rights. Two of the plays analyzed here were devoted entirely to the incident, and it played a major role in the third. As a result, S´ambu¯ka became a relatively well-known figure, mentioned in speeches, tracts, and other forms of public discourse during this period. In addition to examining individual differences between the interpretations of Chaudari, Thangaraju, and Kuvempu, the essay also considers each playwright’s view of Hindu traditions that shaped those interpretations. Although Kuvempu’s plot differs most radically from Va¯lmı¯ki’s account of the incident, Kuvempu’s religious stance is the most familiar: Kuvempu expresses his devotion (bhakti) to Ra¯ma by depicting Ra¯ma’s justice, compassion, and

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wisdom. In S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯, Ra¯ma’s dedication to justice and compassion compels him to defend S´ambu¯ka from death, while his commitment to wisdom motivates Ra¯ma to educate the narrow-minded brahman. At the opposite end of the spectrum lies Thangaraju’s drama, in which S´ambu¯ka’s religious achievements as an ascetic are virtually ignored. Instead, his knowledge of science and his ability to argue his case without succumbing to the authority of religious scriptures qualify him as a heroic man, in Thangaraju’s eyes. Chaudari’s view lies somewhere between these two poles on a continuum. He idealizes S´ambu¯ka’s virtuosity in tapas, as did Kuvempu, while also completely rejecting the authority of brahmanical s´a¯stras, as did Thangaraju. Yet ultimately Kuvempu’s devotion does not prevent him from developing a potentially subversive attitude toward religious texts. In his play a celestial voice from the sky proclaims that recourse to scriptures alone does not determine what constitutes virtuous action. Furthermore, Kuvempu claims that each Ra¯ma¯yanfi a poet has, as did Va¯lmı¯ki, authority to tell the story in a distinctive way. While Thangaraju and Chaudari attribute to Ra¯ma, the brahman, and S´ambu¯ka motives that differ from those that Va¯lmı¯ki gives to each character, the Tamil and Telugu plays follow Va¯lmı¯ki’s plot quite closely, while Kuvempu departs from it without qualms. Intriguingly, whatever each playwright thinks about brahmanical texts, each writer reveals admiration for the practice of tapas. Chaudari puts the right to perform tapas at the heart of the struggle that S´ambu¯ka leads. Kuvempu depicts S´ambu¯ka’s ascetic attainments as so extraordinary that they provide him with the power to halt the brahma¯stra. Even Thangaraju, a confirmed atheist, portrays S´ambu¯ka as a highly accomplished S´aivite ascetic, in a play whose audience would either be atheists or, if they had religious affiliations, align themselves with S´aivism. Asceticism in the forest, the religious path least connected to the social prescriptions of Hinduism, is the only aspect of Hindu tradition that all three writers depict as admirable. Of the three texts examined in this chapter, the plays of Chaudari and Thangaraju function primarily as texts that carry political messages about highcaste oppression against members of low castes. In contrast, Kuvempu’s play, though certainly political to its core, is a piece of drama whose subtlety and craftsmanship was and still is savored by literary connoisseurs, and it is taught in college courses on literature. Basavalingaiah’s recent restaging of Kuvempu’s play resituates Kuvempu’s script in the context of shudra performance traditions and makes viewers see both shudras and tapas in a new light. All in all, a study of the treatment of S´ambu¯ka in three south Indian plays demonstrates not only multiple views of an individual Ra¯ma¯yanfi a character, but also how that multiplicity takes varied forms in theatrical productions. notes 1. Due to the complexity of using diacritical marks not just for ancient Sanskrit texts but for three modern regional languages during the twentieth century (when Anglicized spellings of Indian words have shaped daily usage for decades), I have


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adopted four special transliteration policies. First, the three playwrights studied here published in both English and their regional language, so in the body of this paper I have used the English spelling of their names that they preferred when they published in English. When citing their original work in Tamil, Telugu, or Kannada in the notes, however, I have used the transliteration of their name in their regional language. For example, Thangaraju’s English publications bear the name Tiruvarur K. Thangaraju, while the name he gives in the title page of his play is Tiruvarur K. Tankara¯cu. Second, in order to avoid confusing the reader unnecessarily, I have kept the spelling of the main Ra¯ma¯yanfi a characters consistent throughout the paper. For example, I refer to Ra¯ma, rather than Ra¯man, the Tamil usage. In the case of S´ambu¯ka, in Sanskrit, Tamil, and Kannada, the “u” in S´ambu¯ka is long. It is not long in Telugu, but I retain the long “u” everywhere except in the title of Chaudari’s Telugu text, which I write S´ambuka Vadha. Third, in referring to the forms of folk performance of Karnataka I use the terms by which they are Anglicized in the Bangalore/Mysore area. Finally, since ja¯ti and varnfi a terms in Anglicized form are part of everyday discourse in modern India, I have presented them without diacritics (e.g. brahman, shudra, Kamma). 2. Richman 1991: 8. 3. Shulman 2000: 54; Narayana Rao 2000: 160. 4. Raghunathan, v. 3, 1982: 574. 5. Playwrights often were not familiar with plays about S´ambu¯ka in other languages. Although Sanskrit acted as a link language for brahmans across linguistic boundaries, and English functioned for pan-Indian elites, regional languages remained a barrier for many writers working on similar themes in another regional language. This situation changed somewhat through national institutions such as the Sahitya Akademi and the National School of Drama in the middle 1950s. 6. Richman 2000: 6–12. 7. For example, Lutgendorf 2000 analyzes alternative narratives of the story of S´avarı¯ in a number of texts. 8. Thapar 1989. 9. Although it lies beyond the scope of this paper, the Malayalam play Ka¯n˜cana Sı¯ta¯ by C. N. Sreekantan Nair (1928–1977), published in 1965, also contains a short section critiquing the treatment of S´ambu¯ka. There, Ra¯ma’s horse sacrifice is interrupted by S´ambu¯ka’s wife when she appears at the edge of the sacrificial enclosure shouting, “I want to see King Ra¯ma. Don’t stand in my way. Isn’t the sword with which he killed my husband in his hand? Let him slice off my neck as well.” Later, prevented from confronting Ra¯ma, she curses him before leaving, calling him “a Nisfi a¯da” and “king who is a killer of husbands,” referring to the killing of her husband as well as the husbands of the monkeys and bears lying dead on the battlefield in Lan˙ka¯. See the translation of act 4 by Krishnankutty: forthcoming. 10. Although there are many places in this essay where I would have preferred to use the term dalit instead of shudra or untouchable, such a usage would be anachronistic for the period during which the three plays studied here were written and performed. Even Kuvempu uses the term “shudra” so I have done the same. Nonetheless, it is crucial to keep in mind that many of the literary explorations that Kuvempu undertook have played significant roles in current dalit discussions. Ekalavya and S´ambu¯ka have appeared in a number of recent literary works. For example, consider the first lines of Sivasagar’s poem “On-going History”: “Sambuka with a smile on his lips / is executing Rama / Ekalavya is chopping off Drona’s thumb / with an axe.”

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11. Mehtha 1963: 250. 12. Chaudari called it “Suta Ashram” after the bards considered “low caste” in brahmanical tradition, who recounted epic and pura¯nfi ic tales. For more information on the life of Chaudari, see Narayana Rao 2000: 159–162, 173–177. 13. Here Chaudari espouses the specific pattern of power relations analyzed by historian Burton Stein, who wrote, long after Chaudari’s time, about collusion between brahmans and kings in medieval south India. See Stein 1978. 14. In Bhavabhu¯ti’s Uttara¯macaritam, as well, S´ambu¯ka becomes a friend of Ra¯ma and after his death attains an immortal form. 15. Narayana Rao 2000: 196. 16. In my 1992 interview with Tiruvarur K. Thangaraju, he provided a bibliography of sources upon which his interpretation of the S´ambu¯ka episode was based. They included Ra¯vanfi a Ka¯ppiyam, Pandit Nehru’s writings on Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, and Ce¯kar¯ pa¯cam. The first work is a Tamil epic poem describing the a¯ppa¯valar’s Ira¯ma¯yanfi attinfi A greatness of Ra¯vanfi a, and the third is an attack on the values and characters of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a written by a scholar in sympathy with the political views of the Dravidian Kazhagam. 17. Preface, Tan ˜ kara¯cu [1954] 1976: 3–6. 18. Ibid.: 140–141 (my translation). 19. Ibid.: 142. By referring here to the constitution, Thangaraju makes snide reference to what he considers the failure of the Indian constitution to live up to the “secularism” of the Indian state. In Thangaraju’s eyes, the constitution insures continuing brahmanical exploitation of shudras by guaranteeing brahmans the right to religious freedom and warning that the state should not interfere with their religious practices or wound their religious sensibilities. Since purity and pollution can be viewed as part of “religious practice,” such a phrase can be used to prohibit interference with caste hierarchy. 20. Ibid.: 141. 21. Ibid.: 144. 22. A well-known Tamil comedian played Ra¯ma as an—at times—humorously corrupt, inept, and unprincipled prince impelled by desire for power. 23. Ra¯maca¯mi [1930] 1972: 41. 24. See Washbrook 1989: 223–238. 25. Interview with Thangaraju 1992. 26. Harrison 1960. 27. May 1, 1970. The Organiser is a weekly published from Delhi since 1947 by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist organization. 28. “Kuvempu” derives from the Kannada initials, Ku. Vem. Pu. of his full name conflated into a single word, used affectionately by his admirers. 29. Kuvempu 1990: xii. 30. I am indebted to the following people for long and insightful discussions with me about Kuvempu’s literary works: K. Marula Siddappa, Girish Karnad, Prasanna, Gangadhar Swamy, G. Shivarudrappa, G. Venkata Subbiah, and Nandini K. R. 31. Kuvempu 1990: 12. 32. Karnad (forthcoming): 16. 33. At the time of Va¯li’s death, when Ra¯ma was questioned about killing Va¯li in such a cowardly way, Ra¯ma justified his action in largely strategic terms: There was no other way to rid the monkey kingdom of Va¯li. For analysis of this scene, see Shulman 1979. 34. Karnad (forthcoming): 17.


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35. Ibid.: 19. 36. Ibid.: 20. 37. Ibid. 38. Ranganath 1982: 195. 39. Poornachandra Tejasvi’s article in the Feburary 24, 1991, issue of Lankesh Patrike is quoted in Niranjana 1993: 147. 40. Note that this preface was also reproduced in Basavalingaiah’s program that accompanied his performances. See Kuvempu 1977 for the Kannada preface and the program from the 2001 performance for an English translation. 41. Chandrasekhara 1960a; Ranganath 1982: 80–163. 42. National School of Drama 2002. 43. Lest the similarity to a Shakespearean play seem arbitrary, I should mention that Kuvempu wrote two plays inspired by Shakespeare’s, adaptations of Hamlet and The Tempest. See Chandrasekhara 1960b. 44. Also added were various exclamations of agreement, surprise, and encouragement such as Howda (yes) and Shiva, Shiva, spoken by members of the chorus in response to words uttered in the play. 45. Examples of stage directions that reveal emotions include, in act 2, the brahman coming to tell Ra¯ma of his son’s death speaking “with anger and grief ” and the description of Ra¯ma from the same scene: “His face is melancholy. He looks around as though he is searching for something. He walks gently, seriously like hope, like grace itself.” 46. Nath 1913: 39. 47. A repertory company’s director usually seeks scripts that make resourceful use of talent in the troupe; the chorus gave Basvalingaiah the chance to include more actors in S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯ than if the production contained only the characters in Kuvempu’s script. Furthermore, since the script was filled entirely with male roles, the actresses in the company would otherwise have been excluded from the cast. 48. I am grateful to all the members of Rangayana in Mysore for inviting me to their rehearsal of the play and then discussing it as a group with me: Ramu S., Jagdesh Manevarte, Mahadev, Ramnath S., Manjunath Belekere, Halugappa Kattimani, Prashanth Hiremath, Santosh Kusunoor, Geetha M. S., Pramella Bengre, Shashikala B. N., Nandini K. R., Saroja Hegde, Vinayak Bhat, Noor Ahmed Shaikh, Krishnakumar, as well as Rangayana director Prasanna, designer Dwarakanath, costume designer Raghunandan, manager Gangadhar Swamy, music director Srinivas Bhat, and musician Anju Singh. 49. This is the local name for a goddess known elsewhere as Renuka¯. Her husband, the ascetic Jamadagni, ordered his son to kill her. When the son performed this painful duty and was granted a boon, he asked that his mother be returned to life. For one version of this story, see van Buitenen 1975:445–446.

references Aithal, Parameswara. 1987. “The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in Kannada Literature.” In South Asian Digest of Regional Writing. Vol. 12, Mythology in Modern Indian Literature. Heidelberg: South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg, pp. 1–12. Chandrasekhara, B. 1960a. “The Modern Kannada Theatre.” Literary Half-Yearly 1.1 (January): 19–38. ———. 1960b. “The Plays of K. V. Puttappa.” Literary Half-Yearly 1.2 (July): 24–42.

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Chaudari, Tripura¯nfi eni Ra¯masva¯mi. 1966. S´ambuka Vadha. Reprinted in vol. 2 of Kavira¯ju Sa¯hitya Sarvasvam [Complete works of Ramasva¯mi Chaudari]. 2 vols. Gunturu: Kaviraju Sahita Samiti, 1–79. Harrison, Selig. 1960. India: The Most Dangerous Decades. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Interviews with Tiruvarur K. Thanagaraju, Raja Annamalaipuram, Chennai: January 13, 1992. Karnad, Girish, trans. Forthcoming. “The Shudra Ascetic.” In Telling Ramayana Stories in Modern South Indian Literature, edited by Paula Richman. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Krishnankutty, Gita, trans. Forthcoming. “The Golden Sita.” In Telling Ramayana Stories in Modern South Indian Literature, edited by Paula Richman. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Kuvempu (K. V. Puttappa). [1944]. S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯ [The Shudra ascetic]. 2nd ed. Mysore: Udayaravi, 1948; reprinted in Kannada Nataka, edited by K. Marulasiddappa. Bangalore: Bangalore University, 1977, 117–150. ———. 1990. S´rı¯ Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Dars´anam. Bangalore: I. M. Vittala Murthy, Directorate of Kannada Literature and Culture. Lutgendorf, Philip. 2000. “Dining Out at Lake Pampa: The Shabari Episode in Multiple Ramayanas.” In Questioning Ramayanas, a South Asian Tradition, edited by Paula Richman. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 119– 136. Mehtha, C. C. 1963. Bibliography of Stageable Plays in Indian Languages. Baroda: M. S. University of Baroda and Bharatiya Natya Sangha. Narayana Rao, Velcheru. 2000. “The Politics of Telugu Ramayanfi as: Colonialism, Print Culture, and Literary Movements.” In Questioning Ramayanas, A South Asian Tradition, edited by Paula Richman. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 159–185. Nath, Lala Baij, trans. 1913. The Adhya¯tma Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Allahabad: Panini Office. National School of Drama. 2002. Bharat Rang Mahotsav [Indian theater festival]—An Overview. New Delhi: National School of Drama. Niranjana, Tejaswini. 1993. “Whose Culture Is It? Contesting the Modern.” Journal of Arts and Ideas 25–26 (December): 139–151. The Organizer, May 1, 1970. Puttappa, K.V., see Kuvempu. Raghunathan, N. 1982. Srimad Valmiki Ramayanam, 3 vols. Madras: Vigneswara. Ra¯maca¯mi, I. Ve. [1930] 1972. Ira¯ma¯yanfi appattiran˙kalfi [Characters in the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a]. Tricchy: Periyar Self-Respect Publishers. Ranganath, H. K. 1982. The Karnatak Theatre. Dharwad: Karnatak University. Richman, Paula. 1991. “E. V. Ra¯masa¯mi’s Reading of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a.” In Many Ra¯ma¯yanfi as: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia, edited by Paula Richman. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 175–201. ———. 2000. “Questioning and Multiplicity within the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Tradition.” In Questioning Ramayanas, a South Asian Tradition, edited by Paula Richman. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1–21. Shulman, David. 1979. “Divine Order and Divine Evil in the Tamil Tale of Ra¯ma¯yanfi a.” Journal of Asian Studies 38.4, (August): 651–69. ———. 2000. “Bhavabhu¯ti on Cruelty and Compassion.” In Questioning Ramayanas, a South Asian Tradition, edited by Paula Richman. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, pp. 49–82.


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Sivasagar. 2000. “On-going History.” Translated by Archana Chowhan. Indian Literature 200 (November–December), 108. Stein, Burton. 1978. “All the King’s Mana: Perspectives on Kingship in Medieval South India.” In Kingship and Authority in South Asia, edited by John F. Richards. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 115–167. S´u¯dra Tapasvı¯. Program for 2001 performance, Rangayana, Mysore. Tankara¯cu, Tiruvarur K. [1954] 1976. Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Na¯fitakam [Ra¯ma¯yanfi a play]. Madras: the author. Thapar, Romila. 1989. “The Ramayana Syndrome.” Seminar 353 (January): 72–83. van Buitenen, J. A. B., transl. 1975. The Maha¯bha¯rata. Vol. 2. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Washbrook, David A. 1989. “Caste, Class and Dominance in Modern Tamil Nadu: Non-Brahmanism, Dravidianism and Tamil Nationalism.” In Dominance and State Power in Modern India: Decline of a Social Order, edited by Francine Frankel and M. S. A. Rao. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 204–264.

6 Hanuma¯n’s Adventures Underground: The Narrative Logic of a Ra¯ma¯yanfi a “Interpolation” Philip Lutgendorf Roots and Crystals Broadly speaking, Ra¯ma¯yanfi a scholarship during the second half of the twentieth century has moved in two divergent directions; on the one hand, toward the analysis of classical texts and the preparation of critical editions that seek to identify the “root” or ur version (mu¯la pa¯fitha) and to purge it of subsequent accretions; and on the other hand, toward a broad and inclusive view of the tradition as multivocal and subject to constant reinterpretation. The former tendency, drawing on the legacy of nineteenth-century text criticism and classical Indology, is epitomized by the seven-volume Baroda Critical Edition of the Va¯lmı¯ki epic (1960–1975), which despite its editors’ challenged methodology and assumptions inevitably casts a long shadow over Sanskrit Ra¯ma¯yanfi a scholarship and is the basis for what will undoubtedly stand for a long time as the most influential complete English translation (Goldman et al., 1984–). One may also mention the diligent if sometimes less rigorous editing of some of the great regional Ra¯ma¯yanfi as—texts that Indologists once tended to characterize incorrectly as “translations and adaptations” of a Va¯lmı¯kian archetype—such as the Ira¯ma¯vata¯ram of Kampanfi and the Ra¯mcaritma¯nas of Tulsı¯da¯s, created by collating early manuscripts and by expunging ksfiepak or “interpolations” (for example, the Kashiraj edition of the Ra¯mcaritma¯nas, edited by Vis´vana¯th Prasa¯d Mis´ra, 1962). The other tendency, inspired by the activities of folklorists and ethnographers and especially by the expansion of scholarly interest in oral traditions since the 1960s, is represented by a series of


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books that survey the geographical extent and narrative diversity of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, often downplay the centrality of the Va¯lmı¯ki (or any other) literary archetype, assemble unusual or idiosyncratic variants, and stress the multivocal, performative, and even contested nature of the story. For such scholars, it is less important to dig up the “root” of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a than to study it as (in a metaphor sometimes used by A. K. Ramanujan) a crystal: multifaceted and possessing (as in crystallography) inherent stress points or “flaws” that become nodes for the growth of new crystalline branches. To the latter approach belongs the groundbreaking research of Bulcke (1950), who offered the Hindi term Ra¯makatha¯ rather than Ra¯ma¯yanfi a for this composite tradition, and the volumes edited by Iyengar (1983), Raghavan (1980), Richman (1991 and 2001), and Thiel-Horstmann (1991). Which is the more useful view of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a—as a widely acknowledged narrative archetype that undergoes a series of extensive but historically explainable permutations, or as a far vaster but more amorphous cultural entity? Whereas text-critical studies may tend to buttress the former view (and one may also note repeated twentieth-century efforts to historicize and concretize the story, often motivated by nationalist and communal sentiments, as well as recent “Hindu fundamentalist” assertions of a unitary “correct” interpretation), the proliferating assemblage of variants—regional and folk Ra¯ma¯yanfi as, tribal Ra¯ma¯yanfi as, Southeast Asian Ra¯ma¯yanfi as, women’s Ra¯ma¯yanfi as, esotericerotic Ra¯ma¯yanfi as, and Jain, Buddhist, and Tamil-separatist counterRa¯ma¯yanfi as—may challenge even the most “basic” elements of the story. In his 1991 essay “Three Hundred Ra¯ma¯yanfi as,” Ramanujan variously termed the tradition of Ra¯ma stories and performances a “pool of signifiers,” “a common code,” and “a narrative language,” and spoke of a “meta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a” that includes all possible variants, but he also offered the more extreme view that the core of the epic is merely a “skeletal set of relations” and that its various recastings may have no more in common than “a collection of people with the same proper name . . . a class in name alone” (Richman 1991, 44–46). Although I too have emphasized the diversity of Ra¯ma¯yanfi a performance and storytelling traditions, and have even asserted that the epic functions within its culture area as “more a medium than a message,” (Lutgendorf 1991: 170), I am uncomfortable with the last position stated above, on the grounds that it is too radical and tends to erode the usefulness of the category of Ra¯ma¯yanfi a and may discourage analysis of the admittedly contested but nonetheless identifiable meanings of the story.1 For epic transmutations are not, in my view, random or arbitrary and (to return to Ramanujan’s own metaphors), “signifiers” undoubtedly have significance, a “code” conveys a message, and a “language” is governed by a system of grammatical rules (even though all of these may be susceptible to modification and disputation). Moreover, one may ask, if the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a tradition is so flexible and open-ended, why are some elaborations much more successful than others, spreading across regions and sectarian divisions? My own reflections on these questions lead me to suggest three principal ways in which the Ra¯ma tale has historically undergone transformation. The

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first is through expansion or contraction at what I term (following Ramanujan) narrative “stress points.” These are important episodes in the Va¯lmı¯kian master narrative that have, over time, proven troubling to audiences and have generated much questioning and debate. Later storytellers participate in this debate by either greatly expanding certain scenes—altering events, providing clarification of the motives of key characters, and offering additional rationalization for their behavior—or conversely by compressing the story to abridge or even eliminate the troubling episode. Thus Ra¯ma and Laksfi manfi a’s encounter with the demoness S´u¯rpanfi akha¯ in Pan ˜ cavatı¯—which results in her mutilation at their hands and leads to their encounter with her brother Ra¯vanfi a—is treated only briefly in Va¯lmı¯ki, who shows the brothers “jesting” with the ugly, lovesick woman in a way that some listeners have found duplicitous and cruel. This episode is greatly expanded by the Tamil poet Kampanfi , who has Su¯rpanfi akha¯ assume a lovely form before approaching Ra¯ma (thus showing duplicity on her part); he depicts her subsequent lovesickness in detail and with a certain sympathy, reveals Ra¯ma’s own inner deliberations over how to handle her, and eliminates the deceitful jest of having him direct her to the allegedly “unmarried” Laksfi manfi a (3.5; Hart and Heifetz 1988: 84–116).2 On the other hand, Va¯lmı¯ki’s long and painful exchange between Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯ when they are reunited after Ra¯vanfi a’s death, precipitated by Ra¯ma’s venting his doubts regarding Sı¯ta¯’s chastity, is reduced to a single half-verse in Tulsı¯da¯s’s version (“ . . . the Compassionate One spoke some harsh words,” 6.108; Sı¯ta¯ says nothing in reply), and the same poet entirely eliminates, from his seventh book, the controversial story of Sı¯ta¯’s second banishment from Ayodhya. A second type of modification may be termed the counter-narrative or “anti-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a”—a full-scale retelling of the story that challenges the authority of the Va¯lmı¯kian model. Such works have a long history, perhaps dating back to the third-century b.c.e. Buddhist Dasaratha ja¯taka (though scholars debate its chronology relative to Va¯lmı¯ki’s work) and certainly including such influential Jain retellings as the Paumacariya. Although both these works exercise considerable freedom in adapting the basic story to a different sectarian worldview, they present less extreme transformations than the twentiethcentury Tamil nationalist retelling popularized by E. V. Ramasami, which entirely subverts the traditional narrative by making Ra¯vanfi a, rather than Ra¯ma, its hero, depicting Sı¯ta¯ as a wanton woman, and so forth (Richman 1991: 175– 201). Specific episodes in these counter-narratives have sometimes acquired regional popularity and become influential (for example, the Jain tale that makes Sı¯ta¯ the daughter of Ra¯vanfi a and Mandodarı¯, abandoned at birth due to a prophecy that she will be responsible for her father’s death, which has come to be widely circulated, especially in southern India), yet, to my knowledge, no narrative that drastically challenges the broad Va¯lmı¯kian archetype has ever achieved widespread popularity or authority within South Asia. The third type of transformation is what I will term “organic” or “characterological” expansion. By this I refer to the elaboration of characters or episodes that have proven especially popular with audiences and concerning which they want to know more. Such elaboration need not directly address a


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narrative “problem” (as in the first type), nor does it deliberately subvert the main story (as in the second), although it may subtly have both these effects. There are a great many examples of such “organic” expansion, and these can sometimes be traced to particular regions, communities, or vernacular poets. Yet because they do not appear to directly challenge the master narrative, some of these expansions have achieved extremely wide circulation and evident popularity, as evidenced by their appearance in multiple texts as well as in visual art and folk performance. One example is a cluster of tales that elaborate on Ra¯ma’s establishment and consecration of a S´iva linfi gam at Rameshwaram (itself originally a non-Va¯lmı¯kian episode) prior to crossing the monkey-built causeway to Lan˙ka¯; these include stories of Hanuma¯n’s being sent to Varanasi or Mount Kailasa to fetch a lingam and his ensuing adventures, and a rarer variant in which the S´aiva brahman Ra¯vanfi a is summoned from Lan˙ka¯ (sometimes accompanied by Sı¯ta¯) to officiate as priest in the stha¯pana¯ ritual. Other widespread “characterological” expansions include tales that give an enhanced role to female figures who appear only marginally (or not at all) in the master narrative, such as Laksfi manfi a’s wife Urmila¯ and Meghana¯da’s wife Sulocana¯. Certain of these tales have inspired ambitious literary works, such as the nineteenth-century Bengali poet Michael Madhusudan Datta’s tragic epic on the death of Ra¯vanfi a’s heroic eldest son, Meghana¯davadha ka¯vya (Seeley 2004). Although none of these examples systematically contradicts the master narrative of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, their introduction of such elements as S´aiva devotional themes, the highlighting of women, and the sympathetic portrayal of Ra¯ma’s “demonic” adversaries can all be seen as responses to perceptions of gaps or imbalances in the main story and hence as subtle forms of resistance to its dominant ideologies. In the remainder of this chapter, I will examine what I consider to be one of the most widespread and popular examples of this third type of “organic” expansion: the saga of a second and more menacing Ra¯vanfi a against whom the primary heroes of the epic find themselves powerless, so that they must be rescued by their simian subordinate Hanuma¯n. The success of this innovation, I will argue, exemplifies the tension between the process of narrative creativity and expansion on the one hand, and an underlying and conservative “narrative logic” on the other; or (to use another of Ramanujan’s metaphors) between the relative freedom of individual “speech acts” and the underlying constraints of a grammatical code. Ultimately, I will offer another metaphor: of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a as a musical raga, susceptible to almost infinite (but not unrestricted) variation.

Magicians and Monkeys Although some modifications of the Ra¯ma story are idiosyncratic or restricted to a single region or sect, others have gained such widespread acceptance that many people would not regard them as “interpolations” at all. The story with which I am concerned here belongs to the latter category, and although its

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oldest literary versions do not appear until the late-medieval period (that is, twelfth to fourteenth centuries c.e.), its subsequent spread is remarkable. As noted by W. L. Smith, it is found in Sanskrit, Gujarati, Marathi, Malayalam, Kannada, Tamil, Oriya, Bengali, Assamese, Hindi, and Nepali, as well as in Thai, Lao, Cambodian, Malay, and Burmese versions (Smith 1988: 145)—in short, in most of the South and Southeast Asian languages in which Ra¯ma¯yanfi a tales are told.3 It appears in the form of independent poetic works and plays such as the Sanskrit Maira¯vanfi acarita and Mahı¯ra¯vanfi avadha na¯fitaka, the Tamil Mayilira¯vanfi an katai, and the Assamese Mahı¯ra¯vanfi a vadha, as well as in the form of episodes included in late Ra¯ma¯yanfi a texts such as the Sanskrit Anandara¯ma¯yanfi a and the Bengali Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Krfittiva¯sa (Smith 1988: 145–151; Zvelebil 1987: xi). Although Kamil Zvelebil speculates that it originated in the Tamil country, where it remains popular to this day (note that it was the subject of one of the first feature-length Tamil films; Zvelebil 1987: xlvi), its current popularity in north India may be gauged from the fact that, although Tulsı¯da¯s neither included nor alluded to it in his Avadhı¯ epic (nor in any other of his generally accepted writings on the Ra¯ma theme), popular editions of the Ra¯mcaritma¯nas often include a substantial version of it; thus the Venfi katfies´var Press edition with fit¯ıka¯ by Pandit Jva¯la¯prasa¯d Mis´ra of Muradabad (first published in about 1889 and constantly reprinted as well as pirated in diverse formats) includes an artfully written version in twenty-one caupa¯¯ı-doha¯ stanzas, inserted into the latter portion of Lan˙ka¯ka¯nfi dfi a. (Mis´ra 1982: 1032–1050). Although the more “critical” Gita Press edition omits it, the story remains, in my experience, extremely popular in Hindi-speaking regions. It appears in bazaar chapbooks and comics, is sometimes performed in Ra¯mlı¯la¯ plays, and is often represented in poster art and in temple icons of Hanuma¯n (for example, the recumbent image on the riverbank adjacent to the Mughal fort at Praya¯g/Allahabad).4 Although pandits and Ra¯ma¯yanfi ¯ıs may be careful to label it an “interpolation” (ksfiepak), the average north Indian undoubtedly thinks of it as just another prasanfi g or episode in the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. The villain of the episode is known by various names: Ahira¯vanfi a or Mahi(Mahı¯)ra¯vanfi a (“snake-Ra¯vanfi a” or “earth-Ra¯vanfi a”), or the variants Aira¯vanfi a and Maira¯vanfi a, in most of northern and eastern India; and as Mayilira¯vanfi a (“peaco*ck Ra¯vanfi a”) in Dravidian sources; one scholar has suggested that all these names may ultimately derive from the Tamil mai, connoting “collyrium” or “blackness” (Dieter Kapp, cited in Smith 1988: 146). Such a derivation accords well with the cthonic and serpentine associations of the Sanskritized variants, since all the stories agree in making the villain a master of sorcery, who places spells of darkness and sleep over his victims, and all situate him in Pa¯ta¯la Loka, a shadowy but prosperous netherworld often mentioned in the Pura¯nfi as and in folktales, and thought to be inhabited by various ranks of asuras and na¯gas, the latter sometimes under the overlordship of the serpent kings Va¯suki, S´esfi a, or Taksfi aka, who reign from the opulent subterranean city of Bhogavatı¯. In some versions Ahira¯vanfi a and Mahira¯vanfi a are separate demons, father and son or brothers; in others they are collapsed into a single figure who in turn is said to be related to Ra¯vanfi a, the king of Lan˙ka¯, either as


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a brother or a son. Since the story in its major eastern and southern variants has been ably recounted by Smith (1988: 146–152) and Zvelebil (1987: 173– 219), I will only briefly summarize it here, and will base my summary on Hindi versions they do not discuss, of which I possess half a dozen modern examples showing only relatively minor variation.5 Following many days of heavy losses in the battle with Ra¯ma’s monkey army and the slaying of Ra¯vanfi a’s supposedly invincible eldest son Meghana¯da (a.k.a. Indrajı¯t), the demon king of Lan˙ka¯ becomes deeply depressed. He remembers, or is reminded of, his relative Ahira¯vanfi a (“serpent Ra¯vanfi a,” the name favored in Hindi sources) who reigns in distant Pa¯ta¯la Loka and is a powerful sorcerer; Ra¯vanfi a then summons him, either by mental concentration or through the invocation of S´iva or Bhava¯nı¯. Although Ahira¯vanfi a scolds his kinsman for foolishly kidnapping Sı¯ta¯, he promises to secure his victory by spiriting away Ra¯ma and Laksfi manfi a to Pa¯ta¯la Loka, where he will offer them as human sacrifices to his fierce patron goddess. Pandit Jva¯la¯prasa¯d Mis´ra and some other narrators add, in the characteristic fashion of epic bards, a subsidiary story-behind-the-story, explaining Ahi’s birth and present situation: a son of Ra¯vanfi a’s wife Mandodarı¯, his terrible appearance—“with twenty snakes”— frightens his father, who casts him into the ocean or buries him in the earth, and he is eventually adopted by the snake-demoness Sim ˙ hika¯, and makes his way to the serpent world, located in the third nether region. Here he performs intense tapasya¯ to please the local Devı¯ and so acquires supernatural powers and nearly perfect invulnerability, and also the boon that Ra¯vanfi a, who insulted and abandoned him, will one day call on him for help; he then compels the king of Pa¯ta¯la to give him his daughter in marriage and to establish him in his own realm. Now called on to save embattled Lan˙ka¯, Ahira¯vanfi a tells Ra¯vanfi a to watch for a bright light in the sky. He then casts a spell of dense darkness over Ra¯ma’s army, which reacts by retreating into a huge fortress formed by Hanuma¯n’s expanded and coiled tail, at the only entrance to which the monkey champion stands guard. Ahi tricks him, however, by taking the form of Vibhı¯sfi anfi a, and so gains entrance. Casting a sleep-spell over everyone, he spirits away the two princes, signaling to Ra¯vanfi a through a brilliant flash in the night sky. Awakening to find their leaders gone, Ra¯ma’s troops are distraught, but Vibhı¯sfi anfi a quickly divines the identity of his mysterious double (since no one but Ahi possesses the skill to impersonate him) and dispatches Hanuma¯n to Pa¯ta¯la Loka. Here the great monkey assumes various disguises, and overhears a vulture couple discussing the fresh meat they will devour after the two princes are sacrificed. But when he tries to gain entrance to Ahira¯vanfi a’s citadel, his way is blocked by a huge monkey gatekeeper who looks exactly like himself, and who indeed identifies himself as the “fish-bannered” (Makaradhvaja) son of Hanuma¯n, conceived by a fish who swallowed sea water containing drops of Hanuma¯n’s sweat following his burning of Lan˙ka¯. The fish was later caught and brought to the royal kitchens of the netherworld. When its belly was cut open, a small but powerful monkey emerged, who was subsequently adopted by Ahira¯vanfi a. Hanuma¯n is both surprised and delighted to meet this immac-

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ulately conceived son, who reverently touches his feet. He is even pleased by the youth’s fidelity to his demon-master—for Makaradhvaja is under strict orders to admit no one to the city—although this leads to a father-son battle, at the end of which Makaradhvaja is subdued and bound in his own tail so that Hanuma¯n can get on with his mission. Hanuma¯n proceeds to the Devı¯ temple, which he enters disguised as an insect on a flower garland, but quickly swells to enormous size, pressing the goddess’s image into the floor (in a few versions she actively assists him in the plot) and assuming her form. Ahira¯vanfi a arrives with his victims and begins an elaborate tantric pu¯ja¯ ritual, first offering a huge feast to the goddess; when Hanuma¯n greedily devours everything, the king and his forces are thrilled, supposing the Devı¯ to be especially pleased with them (in some accounts the monkey demands additional food until the royal kitchens are emptied), but their delight turns to terror when “she” roars menacingly, places the captive princes on “her” shoulders, and begins slaughtering the demons, casting their bodies into the ritual fire-pit. After a brief battle, Ahira¯vanfi a meets the same fate, whereupon Hanuma¯n retraces his route, frees Makaradhvaja, whom Ra¯ma appoints the new ruler of Pa¯ta¯la, and then returns with the princes to Lan˙ka¯, to the relief of the monkey forces and to the terrestrial Ra¯vanfi a’s despair. It may be noted, for the sake of completeness, that several elements common to many southern and eastern versions are missing from this account: notably, the demon’s life-force being externalized in a group of bees or beetles, whom Hanuma¯n must locate and destroy in order to kill him—the “life index” motif well known to folklorists; the monkey is sometimes aided in this task by the demon’s na¯ga mistress, who demands the reward of marrying Ra¯ma, which Hanuma¯n cleverly manages to withhold. Another common folkloric element is the “show me” motif: prompted by Hanuma¯n, Ra¯ma tells his captor that, being a king’s son, he doesn’t know how to bow (before the goddess, prior to being decapitated) and politely requests that the demon demonstrate how it is done; when Ahira¯vanfi a obliges, Hanuma¯n seizes his sword and kills him. Several versions omit the presence of Hanuma¯n’s “fishy” offspring, and the Tamil Mayilira¯vanfi an katai adds an elaborate subplot concerning the demon’s sister and her son, who have been unjustly persecuted and whose cause Hanuma¯n champions, so that he eventually establishes the nephew on the throne, with Hanuma¯n’s son Makaradhvaja (here called Maccavallapanfi , the “fish hero”) as guardian. It may also be noted that the behavior of Ra¯ma and Laksfi manfi a varies among the different accounts—from utterly passive in the Tamil version translated by Zvelebil (they are asleep in a wooden box most of the time), to somewhat more active in Jva¯la¯prasa¯d’s artful addendum to Tulsı¯da¯s, wherein Ra¯ma sees through Hanuma¯n’s disguise as the raging “Devı¯” and, asked by Ahira¯vanfi a (prior to the sacrifice) to call upon his “savior,” invokes the monkey’s name. In some modern Hindi versions, Laksfi manfi a then asks, “Is Hanuma¯n here?” to which Ra¯ma replies, “Where is he not present? Today I am having his dars´ana in the form of the Devı¯” (Gita Press 1975: 320). In any case, as Smith (1988: 153) and Zvelebil (1987: xxxviii, xlii–xliii) have stressed, it is the son of the wind who occupies center stage and is the real hero of the tale:


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figure 6.1. Hanuma¯n rescuing Ra¯ma and Laksfi manfi a. soaring and swooping between earth and Pa¯ta¯la Loka (sometimes making the descent via tunnel or through the stalk of an immense lotus in the midst of the ocean), slaughtering crores of ra¯ksfiasas with his teeth and claws, and standing rampant and defiant with the two diminutive princes perched on his shoulders and the demon king or his patron Devı¯ crushed under his heel—the latter a common tableau in pan-Indian poster art.

Snakes and Langurs The explanations commonly offered for the expansion and proliferation of Ra¯ma¯yanfi a tellings—that they reflect diverse reinterpretations, such as, brahmanical, devotional, or regional—make sense with regard to certain episodes; thus Kampanfi ’s elaboration of the S´u¯rpanfi akha¯ story can be shown to reflect both Tamil poetic conventions and bhakti sensibilities, and the motif of the ma¯ya¯ Sı¯ta¯ (common to both the Sanskrit Adhya¯tma Ra¯ma¯yanfi a and the Tulsı¯da¯s Hindi epic) may reflect the changing social role of women as well as the influence of

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Advaitin-influenced Vaisfi nfi ava metaphysics. The great geographical spread and historical vitality of the (not especially Sanskritic or brahmanical) Ahira¯vanfi a story would seem to require another explanation, and to conclude that its appeal rests on “folk” or “popular” elements is (like these terms themselves) too vague; moreover it has generated literary works of considerable craft, including a number in Sanskrit. As Zvelebil has observed (echoing David Shulman), the cosmic conflict between devas and asuras that forms the essential plot of the vast itiha¯sa-pura¯nfi a narrative tradition is implicitly understood to be endless and unresolvable (Zvelebil 1987: xxxvi). Pura¯nfi ic daityas, asuras, and ra¯ksfiasas are notably reproducible; indeed, their persistent but futile efforts at recapturing (through austerities and divine boons as well as through cosmic warfare) the immortality stolen from them by their junior cousins the devas often result in a kind of malignant corporeality—demons who sprout new heads when decapitated, reassemble severed limbs, or clone themselves from drops of spilled blood—which requires much divine ingenuity to finally defeat. So it should be no surprise to find, in an elaboration on the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, another Ra¯vanfi a. Actually there are more, for the S´a¯kta-influenced retellings of northeastern India sport hundred-, thousand-, and hundred-thousand-headed Ra¯vanfi as, each exponentially more terrible. Yet why not allow the same principal hero—Ra¯ma—to slay each one in single combat, as he does so many other demon champions during the battle of Lan˙ka¯? Instead, these elaborations implicitly play on a central element in the core narrative; for just as the ten-headed Ra¯vanfi a can only be slain by an incarnate god-man, so his cthonic and hydra-headed doubles can only be slain by some other composite being—goddess-mother or god-monkey.6 Both Smith and Zvelebil see the Ahira¯vanfi a/Mayilira¯vanfi a stories as fundamentally about Hanuma¯n and their proliferation as linked to his own growing cult during the past millennium, concerning which I have written elsewhere (Lutgendorf 1994, 1998). This might seem “logical” enough to dictate their inclusion in the epic cycle, but I believe that there are other structural elements to the tale that warrant analysis. Certainly I would question Zvelebil’s generalization that Hanuma¯n’s growing stature simply or even primarily reflects “the last and deadly struggle of Hindu India against Islam in the South” and that his trickster personality reveals “the valour, skills, and shrewdness of the medieval South Indian warrior class who have to keep up the struggle against a terrible foe—the Muslim invader” (1987: xli). This analysis of a pervasive twelfth- to-eighteenth-century story cycle strikes me as facile and tainted by twentieth-century communal hindsight. In analyzing the northeastern versions of the Mahı¯ra¯vanfi a tale, Smith rightly critiques D. C. Sen’s earlier argument that the story is “tantric in inspiration” (1988: 152), since the story’s tantric trappings (evil red-clad sorcerer, blood-soaked altar, trembling human victims, and menacing but ineffectual and finally humiliated goddess) obviously show Vaisfi nfi ava-flavored parody— indeed, Jva¯la¯prasa¯d’s lurid setting of the climactic scene (complete with booming kettledrums and massed ranks of ra¯ksfiasa priests around a huge fire-pit) might be entitled “Indiana-Hanuma¯n in the Temple of Doom.” Beyond this,


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however, Smith merely invokes Hanuma¯n’s proverbial “folk” appeal to explain the fascination of these “popular apocryphal tales” (1988: 153). Zvelebil is correct, I think, when he speculates on the Ra¯ma/Laksfi manfi a dyad as an increasingly “distant divine entity” in Tamil medieval devotional Ra¯ma¯yanfi as, and suggests that there was a felt need for “a hero who would be active, have even ‘human’ follies and weaknesses, and yet be invincible” (1987: xl; italics in original). The process by which gods become otiose is well known to historians of religion and historically well attested in India: the gradual replacement of Dyaus-pitrfi by Indra, of Indra by Visfi nfi u and S´iva, and of the once “wide-striding” Visfi nfi u himself (increasingly found reclining on the Ocean of Milk) by his more active human avata¯rs. Ra¯ma and Krfisfi nfi a certainly have their legions of votaries, but both have also shown signs, in their theologies, of becoming otiose: receding (for rasika devotees) behind hla¯dinı¯ s´aktis (feminine powers) and (for common folk) approachable intercessors. Ra¯ma in particular has always faced certain problems as a personal deity (isfifitadeva); the fact of his being an elder son and a king, though important to his authority, does not render him especially approachable or sympathetic (although other elements in his story do stress his compassion toward the weak and lowly), nor does his (some say) excessive dedication to marya¯da¯ or “decorum” that permits his often-criticized treatment of Sı¯ta¯ and others. Historically, Ra¯ma’s theological elevation corresponded to his increasing abstraction—eventually to the two syllables ra¯-ma which largely replaced, in popular usage, the Vedic om ˙ ka¯ra and were readily embraced by nirgunfi a traditions. Although Tulsı¯da¯s toned down the excessive Advaitin discourse that characterized the Adhya¯tma Ra¯ma¯yanfi a and managed a better balance between Ra¯ma’s human and transcendent aspects, he too contributed to the proliferating cult of the impersonal Ra¯m-na¯m. In approaching such a deity, intercession is essential, and while S´a¯ktas and rasikas opted for Sı¯ta¯, other Vaisfi nfi avas and mainstream sana¯tanı¯ Hindus have often preferred Hanuma¯n. The Ahira¯vanfi a tale belongs to the genre of heroic quest that involves the overcoming of fantastic obstacles. This has its prototype within the classical Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in the encapsulated quest-within-a-quest that is Sundaraka¯nfi dfi a, as well as in the episode of Hanuma¯n’s journey to the mountains to fetch the miraculous san˜jı¯vanı¯ herb. Both these stories cast Ra¯ma in a passive role— pining for Sı¯ta¯ atop Mount Prasravanfi a, or weeping over the mortally wounded Laksfi manfi a—and give the spotlight to Hanuma¯n, and significantly, both have come to enjoy a special popularity within the broader framework of the epic. The Sundara episode (with its odd and much-discussed name), which highlights Hanuma¯n’s power of flight and mastery of magical disguises, and shows him triumphing over a series of initiatory trials that involve the slaying of na¯galike marine demonesses (Surasa¯ and Sim ˙ hika¯ —the latter linked to Ahira¯vanfi a, according to Mis´ra, as a foster mother), has long enjoyed “a significance and a popularity greater than that of the other books” of the Sanskrit epic (Goldman and Goldman 1996: 5). The san˜jı¯vanı¯ story, which like the Ahira¯vanfi a tale occurs during a hiatus in the battle in Lan˙ka¯, adds the additional theme of rescue and healing, and eventually acquires significant elaborations of its own—the story

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of Ka¯lanemi, another powerful sorcerer sent to obstruct Hanuma¯n’s journey (assisted by a demonic makarı¯ (female sea monster) whom the monkey also slays), as well as an emotional meeting with Ra¯ma’s brother Bharata and his family in Ayodhya¯. Though absent from most recensions of Va¯lmı¯ki, this episode is found in the (c. fifteenth-century) Adhya¯tma Ra¯ma¯yanfi a (6.6.35–63; 6.7.1–33), in the Ra¯mcaritma¯nas (6.56.2–6.60), and in many modern Hindi retellings of Hanuma¯n’s carit or memorable acts. Whereas both of these adventures transpire within the normal mythical geography of Bha¯ratavarsfi a, the Ahira¯vanfi a story adds the element of an “otherworld” journey, involving a shamanlike descent to nether regions to recover demon-possessed souls. Several observations may be offered to underscore the elemental appeal of this scenario, and the ease with which it accommodates itself to the wider scope of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a narrative. It too has generic precursors in the other great epic of ancient India, the Maha¯bha¯rata, in which the more “energetic” members of a heroic brotherhood—Arjuna and Bhı¯ma— depart on personal quests that carry them to fabulous landscapes wherein they overcome extraordinary trials, while their senior brother and leader waits passively at home. These scenarios have themselves become loci for significant “crystalline growth” in the Maha¯bha¯rata tradition, and the Arjuna cycle has been embellished with a long episode, popular in Tamil regions, involving a descent to Pa¯ta¯la Loka and a marriage with a na¯ga princess (Hiltebeitel 1988: 217, 225). The theme of an otherworld journey, coupled with the magical and illusory elements in the Ahira¯vanfi a story, suggest other popular South Asian oral tale-cycles that assumed literary form in the nineteenth century, such as the Urdu Da¯sta¯n-e amı¯r H fi amzah (which under the sponsorship of the redoubtable Naval Kishore of Lucknow eventually grew into a Maha¯bha¯rata-dwarfing opus of forty-six volumes of roughly nine hundred pages each; Pritchett 1991: ¯ lha¯khanfi dfi , both of which abound in 25) and the likewise expanding folk epic A episodes featuring evil sorcerers who inhabit magical fortresses (tilasmı¯ garfih) and who specialize in illusions and abductions. The Ahira¯vanfi a tale has provided an opportunity to introduce this kind of staple action-adventure material into the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a cycle, but it should be noted that its theme of netherworld descent and rescue also resonates with Hanuma¯n’s cultic role as an exorcisthealer, able to overpower and expel the possessing demons who induce mental illness (Kakar 1982: 53–88). Here I must say more about the snake motifs in the story, particularly in the Hindi verse version by Mis´ra. In telling the story of “snake-Ra¯vanfi a” whose birth appendage of twenty snakes terrifies even his demon father, and who is adopted by the serpentine sea monster Sim ˙ hika¯, this pandit has artfully introduced an array of snaky images that suggest the ambivalent status of these semidivine beings: Hanuma¯n standing guard over the protective fortress formed by his tail is compared to “the king of snakes who had formed a coil” (Mis´ra: 1,037), the sleeping Ra¯ma’s hand resting on Laksfi manfi a’s chest is likened to “a serpent on a lotus” (1,038), and throughout the episode Laksfi manfi a is referred to by epithets—as he is not generally in the root (mu¯la) text of the Ra¯mcaritma¯nas—meaning “serpent king” (phanfi ina¯hu, phanfi ipati) that allude to


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his being the incarnation of the cosmic snake S´esfi a. Hanuma¯n’s iconic connection with na¯gas is both pervasive and complex: like Garudfi a (with whom he is often paired as Visfi nfi u’s theriomorphic servitor and to whom Va¯lmı¯ki sometimes metaphorically likens him), he can be an adversary of serpents, but as an illusion-creating ka¯maru¯pin and maha¯yogin he has snakelike qualities of his own, and he is the patron deity of wrestlers, who also worship na¯gas as emblems of male power and whose principal holiday is Na¯ga-pan ˜ camı¯ (Alter 1992: 136–66, 198–213). “Crookedness” (tfierfiha¯pan in Hindi), which is a quality of wiliness and moral ambiguity as well as a physical attribute of snakes and of langur’s tails, is not one of Ra¯ma’s strong suits, for he is the avatar of the straight and narrow path of dharma, and in the classical Ra¯ma¯yanfi a he runs into problems with Indrajı¯t’s “snake noose” (na¯gapa¯s´a), becoming helplessly bound until Garudfi a arrives to free him, which poses an embarrassment to later bhakti-oriented retellers. Small wonder that he is so helpless in the clutches of the “snake-Ra¯vanfi a,” and must await rescue by a more “crooked” hero who can beat the demon sorcerer at his own devious game. Snakes, the netherworld, and illusion/magic represent a constellation of motifs in South Asian popular narrative, and the story of “snake-Ra¯vanfi a” abounds in motifs of doubling and disguise. Ahira¯vanfi a himself is Ra¯vanfi a’s darker double, literally a Ra¯vanfi a-from-hell who spreads impenetrable darkness over Ra¯ma’s army and begins an elaborate series of impersonations; in Krfittiva¯sa’s Bengali version of the story, which calls the character Mahı¯ra¯vanfi a, he assumes the forms of Vasisfifitha, Kaus´alya¯, Kaikeyı¯, and Vis´va¯mitra, and tries to enter Hanuma¯n’s tail-fort before finally succeeding in the guise of Vibhı¯sfi anfi a (Smith 1988: 151). Again, it is difficult to imagine the straightforward Ra¯ma assuming a disguise for any purpose, but Hanuma¯n easily matches the demon’s moves. In the Assamese tale by Candra Bha¯ratı¯, the monkey successively transforms himself into a crow, a kingfisher, a fly, an aged brahman, a crow again, a second fly, and the goddess Veta¯lacanfi dfi ¯ı in the course of his mission (Smith 1988: 149–50). This is not the end of the doubling, however, for at the gates of the demon city Hanuma¯n encounters his own double in the form of Makaradhvaja, precipitating a charming father-son reunion scene that emphasizes both Hanuma¯n’s sexual potency (the procreative power of even his perspiration, saliva, or phlegm) and his strict celibacy. But despite this bit of male bonding (and bondage, since Makaradhvaja ends up secured by his own tail) the Ahira¯vanfi a story has little to say about dharma, family values, kingship, or the importance of keeping one’s word—themes that figure prominently in the classical Ra¯ma¯yanfi as. Instead it has everything to do with deception, resourcefulness, and power. In Pa¯ta¯la Loka we expect the unexpected and are not disappointed: forms change with bewildering swiftness, divine champions prove helpless, and lifelong bachelors turn out to have children. The message—apart from sheer entertainment—seems to be that (as in the Pura¯nfi as) demonic illusions will proliferate and may stupefy even the dharma-protecting gods, yet we need not despair because help is available in the form of a plucky superhero with talents as devious as his trademark appendage. Hanuma¯n’s traits in this tale suggest his appeal to socioeconomically weaker segments of the popula-

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tion, and to the aspiring middle classes of contemporary India, a phenomenon of which I have written elsewhere (Lutgendorf 1998: 325–327). Although the Ahira¯vanfi a story is, for all the reasons I have already suggested, widely acceptable to audiences as an “organic” expansion of the master narrative, it may (like several other expansions I cited earlier in this essay) also be seen as a subtle critique of that narative’s implicit championing of hierarchical subordination to various regimes of authority—patriarchal and familial, ideological and political. Indeed, like the tale of the hundred-headed Ra¯vanfi a, it challenges what has sometimes been cited as one of the basic rules of the epic’s “grammar”: namely, that a Ra¯ma¯yanfi a is a story in which “Ra¯ma kills Ra¯vanfi a”—for here that heroic task must be undertaken by Ra¯ma’s subaltern. Significantly, the Ahira¯vanfi a story figures prominently in a series of recent Hindi “biographies” of the divine monkey; elaborate narrative cycles that place him at center stage, and which I collectively characterize (only half in jest) as an emerging Hanuma¯yana (cf. Mis´ra 1987; Prem n.d.; S´arma¯ 1987; Sim ˙ ha 1984). In this multiform and still proliferating epic cycle, as in Hanuma¯n’s widespread worship, I find subordination subtly yielding to subversion and de facto theological substitution. To return to my opening question of how best to conceptualize the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a tradition—as a root or as a crystal—I would like to propose a metaphor from classical Indian music. For a ra¯ga is, so to speak, both at once: in its essence, it is a minimal sequence of notes corresponding to Ramanujan’s “skeletal set of relations” (though we observe that even in this form it is considered to possess distinctive qualities of atmosphere and emotion). In its development and realization in musical performance, a ra¯ga is capable of extraordinarily wide variation, but always within limits set by formal criteria, as well as by the training of the performer and the expectations of the audience. Great innovation is possible, but if it violates certain limits the performance may fail to evoke the desired mood. History and geography play a role here as well, for they can give rise to different musical schools—such as Hindustani and Carnatic—within which the same ra¯ga will come to be shaped by different rules and expectations. In my analysis of the Ahira¯vanfi a story—which we might compare to a particularly satisfying and much-imitated melodic composition or gat introduced into the latter portion of a Hindustani ra¯ga by a talented performer—its success derives from the fact that its narrative innovations are presented through structural features that both echo and complement older and more essential elements in the story. Thus the Ahira¯vanfi a tale permits luxuriant crystalline growth without sacrificing a sense of rootedness; both of these qualities are highly prized within that creative yet essentially conserving worldview that is generically labeled “Hinduism.” notes 1. It should be noted that Ramanujan himself backed away from the last assertion, suggesting (in the next paragraph) that it “may be too extreme a way of putting it”; Richman 1991:44.


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2. The treatment of the wounding and death of the monkey-king Va¯li by Kampanfi and other vernacular poets offers another good example of such a narrative “stress point.” 3. To my knowledge, Smith is the only Western Ra¯ma¯yanfi a scholar to have given serious attention to this tale-cycle. In addition to the discussion of the subject in his comprehensive 1988 book on eastern Indian Ra¯ma traditions, see his 1982 and 1996 articles, each of which deals with a specific textual retelling. 4. This is a famous temple visited by virtually all pilgrims to the Trivenfi ¯ı sanfi gam. It features a gargantuan sandstone Hanuma¯n with a diminutive Ra¯ma and Laksfi manfi a sitting on his shoulders. One of his feet crushes a female figure, whom the pu¯ja¯rı¯ identifies as Pa¯ta¯la Devı¯ (Ahira¯vanfi a’s patroness), and he is flanked by a small monkey holding a flag; this is said to be Hanuma¯n’s son Makaradhvaja. See my pre´cis of the story below for an explanation of these elements. 5. Dı¯ksfi it 1978; Gita Press 1975; Gupta 1980; Mis´ra [1933] 1982; Pa¯ra¯s´ara 1979; S´arma¯ 1987. Throughout this pre´cis, I spell proper nouns according to Hindi pronunciation, omitting the unpronounced vowel a. 6. On the former scenario, see Coburn 1995. Mis´ra’s rendering of the Ahira¯vanfi a story (summarized above) is quite explicit about the terms of the Devı¯’s boon to “serpent-Ra¯vanfi a”: he cannot be slain by anyone except “a certain monkey” (Mis´ra [1933] 1982: 1,036).

references Alter, Joseph S. 1992. The Wrestler’s Body. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Bulcke, Camille. 1950. Ra¯mkatha¯: Utpatti aur Vika¯s (The Ra¯ma story: origin and development) Prayag: Hindi Parisfi ad Praka¯s´an, 1950; in Hindi. Coburn, Thomas B. 1995. “Sita Fights while Ram Swoons.” Manushi 90: 5–16. Dı¯ksfi it, Ra¯jes´. 1978. Hanuma¯n upa¯sna¯. Delhi: Deha¯tı¯ Pustak Bha¯nfi dfi a¯r. Gita Press. 1975. Kalya¯nfi , S´rı¯ Hanuma¯n anfi k. Gorakhpur: Gita Press. Goldman, Robert P. et al. 1984–. The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Va¯lmı¯ki. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Goldman, Robert P., and Sally J. Sutherland Goldman, trans. 1996. The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Va¯lmı¯ki. Vol. 5, Sundaraka¯nfi dfi a Princeton: Princeton University Press. Gupta, Dı¯ndaya¯l. 1980. Hanuma¯n mahima¯. Delhi: Pustak Mahal. Hart, George, and Hank Heifetz, trans. 1988. The Forest Book of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Kampanfi . Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Hiltebeitel, Alf. 1988. The Cult of Draupadı¯. Vol. 1. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Iyengar, K. R. Srinivasa, 1983. Asian Variations in Ramayana. Delhi: Sahitya Akademi. Kakar, Sudhir. 1982. Shamans, Mystics, and Doctors. Delhi: Oxford University Press. Lutgendorf, Philip. 1990. “Ramayan: The Video.” The Drama Review. T126: 127–176. ———. 1994. “My Hanuma¯n Is Bigger Than Yours.” History of Religions 33.3: 211– 245. ———. 1998. “Monkey in the Middle.” Religion 27: 311–332. Mis´ra, Bhagavatı¯ S´aran. 1987. Pavanputra, a¯tmakatha¯tmak s´resfifith upanya¯s. Delhi: Rajpal and Sons. Mis´ra, Jva¯la¯prasa¯d. [1933] 1982. S´rı¯mad Gosva¯mı¯ Tulsı¯da¯s-jı¯ viracit Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Bombay: S´ri Venfi katfies´var Press.

hanuma¯ n’s adventures underground


Para¯s´ara, Jva¯la¯prasa¯d. 1979. Ra¯ma¯yanfi a a¯fithom ˙ ka¯nfi dfi . 13th ed. Mathura: Ramayana Press. Prem, Sri Swami. n.d. The Story of a Lovetrance Being. Harbor City, Cal.: Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevay Foundation. Pritchett, Frances. W. 1991. The Romance Tradition in Urdu. New York: Columbia University Press. Raghavan, V., ed. 1980. The Ramayana Tradition in Asia. Delhi: Sahitya Akademi. Richman, Paula, ed. 1991. Many Ra¯ma¯yanfi as. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. ———. 2001. Questioning Ra¯ma¯yanfi as. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. S´arma¯, Narendra. 1987. S´rı¯ Hanuma¯n Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Ayodhya: Shri Hanuman Ramayana Mandir. Seeley, Clinton B., trans. 2004. The Slaying of Meghanada. New York: Oxford University Press. Sim ˙ ha, Sudars´an. 1984. Hanuma¯n kı¯ a¯tmakatha¯. Hardwar: Randhir Book Sales. Smith, W. L., 1982. “Mahı¯ra¯vanfi a and the Womb Demon.” Indologica Taurinensia, 10: 215–225. ———. 1988. Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Traditions in Eastern India. Stockholm: Department of Indology, University of Stockholm. ———. 1996. “Two Nepalese Versions of the Mahira¯vanfi a Tale.” In Change and Continuity: Studies in the Nepalese Culture of the Kathmandu Valley, edited by Siegfried Lienhard. Collana di Studi Orientali del CESMEO diretta da Irma Piovano 7 Turin: Orientalia. Thiel-Horstmann, Monika, ed. 1991. Ra¯ma¯yanfi a and Ra¯ma¯yanfi as. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrasowitz. Zvelebil, Kamil V. 1987. Two Tamil Folktales. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

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7 “Only You”: The Wedding of Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯, Past and Present Heidi Pauwels

In this essay I compare three different versions of the episode of the wedding of Sı¯ta¯ and Ra¯ma, namely, the episode in the Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, in Tulsı¯da¯s’s Ra¯mcaritma¯nas, and in the TV version by Ra¯ma¯nand Sa¯gar. I will analyze how the classical, medieval, and contemporary portrayals differ from each other and speculate on the relevance of the differences in the contemporary context. An interesting “innovation” in the TV version, for example, appears to be the setting of the first wedding night for an explicit “vow of monogamy” or ekapatnı¯vrata of Ra¯ma, where he promises Sı¯ta¯ to remain faithful to her alone. Say the word Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, and immediately normative values come to mind. Often the epic is treated as a blueprint for Hindu ethics. In particular, the construction of gender roles in the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a has been the subject of much interest. Most obviously, the divine pair Sı¯ta¯ and Ra¯ma is widely regarded as the ideal Hindu couple.1 Their mutual love is a rare example of happy monogamy in the epic universe. Too often, though, the relationship of Sı¯ta¯ and Ra¯ma is treated like a static, unchanging given, without provision for the fact that its portrayal differs in different versions of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a story. It is imperative to reach a more nuanced view. A comparative study of different versions can reveal a lot about the historical evolution of gender relational ideals in different times and places. In this essay I propose to concentrate on the construction of Sı¯ta¯ and Ra¯ma’s ideal love, as expressed in the episode of their wedding. The wedding ceremony is of particular interest in that it is a public ritual in which values are articulated and tradition is constructed in a way meaningful for the participants. I am mostly interested in what the contemporary depiction of Sı¯ta¯ and Ra¯ma’s ideal


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wedding tells us about constructions of gender relationships. The wedding episode immediately follows that scene, and represents the culmination of this privately blossoming love into a public ritual sanctioned by society. The main focus of this paper is on a contemporary version of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, the immensely popular TV Ra¯ma¯yanfi a (TVR), directed by Ra¯ma¯nand Sa¯gar (Ramchand Chopra), which was first shown on the official channel Doordarshan from January 25, 1987, until July 31, 1988.2 As is well known, the series became a major hit and had incredibly high viewer rates at the time it was first aired. Its continued popularity is obvious from the fact that its video version is still a hot item in many “Indian” grocery stores, even in the United States and Canada. Clearly, the series carried a message that struck a chord with a large and varied public. Whether it was in itself normative or reflective of current norms, or a combination of the two, is difficult to say, but it is a message that is well worth analyzing in detail. The wedding episode itself has been very influential. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the TV wedding of Sı¯ta¯ and Ra¯ma has set a precedent for actual wedding ceremonies. It seems that, at least in the Delhi region, it has become fashionable to hire wedding consultants who advertise a designer Sı¯ta¯-Ra¯ma Viva¯ha, a lavish style of public ritual.3 The remarkable influence that the TV Ra¯ma¯yanfi a has come to exert demands close attention to its message, and here I propose to attempt to decode it by carefully analyzing “what is old, what is new,” by paying particular attention not only to the innovations by Sa¯gar, significant as they are, but also to what exactly he quotes from, and by noting what he leaves out from these sources and at which places. I believe this is a necessary critical task, for otherwise we end up ascribing to Sa¯gar’s Ra¯ma¯yanfi a elements that are much older, and missing elements that are truly innovative in the TVR.4 Given the focus of this chapter, I will compare TVR with the two versions Sa¯gar, by his own admission, uses most extensively (at the beginning of each episode this is confirmed in the credits). First, he acknowledges as his source the Sanskrit Ra¯ma¯yanfi a attributed to the legendary sage Va¯lmı¯ki (VR), the urtext, too well known to warrant an introduction.5 But it is his second acknowledged source that Sa¯gar uses most extensively, namely, the version from medieval times, Tulsı¯da¯s’s vastly influential old Hindı¯ (Avadhı¯) Ra¯mcaritma¯nas (RCM).6 This work dates from the last quarter of the sixteenth century and was created in eastern Uttar Pradesh, in the cities of Benares and Ayodhya¯. These are the two main “texts” I mine for similarities and differences, but I will occasionally refer to other, less well-known versions of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a story, which will be introduced when referred to.7 Since my particular interest is in textual studies, it is to this discipline that I have oriented this essay. Textual analysis has been in discredit in some quarters, which is unfortunate because it has much to offer. I would argue that if we want to take the popular TV Ra¯ma¯yanfi a seriously, if we want to understand it fully, beyond easy cliche´s and sweeping generalizations, a close comparative reading is indispensable. This does not mean that I think other approaches are not valid. Rather, I welcome and have benefited from studies from other perspectives. It has been suggested that a study from the perspective of visual

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arts, in particular a comparative study with visual images and earlier films, would be revealing.8 Another angle should be provided from an anthropological study of viewers’ reactions (along the lines of Poornima Mankekar’s 1999 study). The latter is important because it is commonly assumed that the Ma¯nas, which is quoted so extensively by Sa¯gar, is not easily understood any more. In course of my close reading, I came to suspect more and more strongly that Sa¯gar’s use of the Ma¯nas was deliberate and that he targeted connoisseurs of the Ma¯nas. Still, his audience was much broader, and many of the nuances that I note in this paper might well have escaped the “average viewer.” It would be interesting to see how much of Sa¯gar’s carefully crafted message came across in different milieus, but obviously that is a different study and one that requires a different expertise. The story of the wedding of Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯ can be subdivided into four major episodes, three of which are directly relevant to the construction of gender relationships. The first is the so-called svayam ˙ vara episode, where Ra¯ma lifts S´iva’s bow in the possession of the king of Mithila, Janaka, and thereby wins the hand of the princess, Sı¯ta¯. This episode could be said to correspond to any ordinary wedding’s first step, sometimes called vadhu¯vara-gunfi aparı¯ksfia¯ or examination of the qualities of bride and groom (Kane 1974, 531). In the case of Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯, however, it is the groom who is on the spot, not the bride. In the modern context, this episode raises issues related to partner choice and what constitutes “a suitable boy,” or how “a proper match” is made. The second part comprises the wedding ceremonies proper. This episode is of particular interest for the construction of the hierarchical relationship between the bride-givers (kanya¯paksfia) and bride-takers (varapaksfia), and can be read as a dramatic enactment of gender ideologies. Third is the episode of leave-taking and departure of the newly wedded parties to Ayodhya¯. This raises the issue of the adjustment of new brides (bahu¯s) in the joint family of their in-laws (sasura¯l). In this context the TV version adds an episode that features the beginning of Sı¯ta¯ and Ra¯ma’s wedding night as the setting for Ra¯ma’s vow of monogamy or ekapatnı¯vrata. There is no exact equivalent for this scene in any of the other Ra¯ma¯yanfi as considered here. In addition to these three episodes, all three versions also feature the incident of the challenge to Ra¯ma by Paras´ura¯ma (Bha¯rgava Ra¯ma or Ra¯ma Ja¯madagnya), which I am not treating in this essay (for the Va¯lmı¯ki version of this episode, see Sally Goldman’s paper in this volume). At first glance, the TV version follows closely the older accounts for all three episodes. It features frequent quotes from the medieval text, and occasionally also from the authoritative Sanskrit ur-text. It is important, though, to keep in mind that the contemporary retelling of these traditional episodes takes place against a changed backdrop of “modernity.” The very medium through which the TV Ra¯ma¯yanfi a is disseminated puts it in the context of current debates about the advantages and disadvantages of traditional “arranged marriages” and “joint-family living,” which are the subject of other more or less contemporary soap series on TV (such as Ham Log and Buniya¯d; see Mankekar 1999, 110–113). Issues of dowry (Mankekar 1999, 115–116) and “bride burning,”


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which are in the media all the time, also constitute the semantic universe in which the TVR partakes. Whereas the traditional subject of the series does not leave much room to discuss these issues explicitly, they still loom large in the background. They constitute, so to speak, the unspoken pu¯rvapaksfia or “problematization” to which the actual portrayal in the series can be read as an answer. It is helpful to keep this in mind to understand some of the emphases of TVR. I will proceed to the analysis of each of the episodes separately, and draw general conclusions for the construction of gender in the TV series. In an appendix, I provide a fully detailed comparative overview in which I map the three versions (VR, RCM, TVR) of the wedding of Sı¯ta¯ and Ra¯ma. By doing this in an abbreviated chart form, I seek to provide a tool to facilitate an overview of the differences and similarities at a glance, and a quick reference for the reader.

Sı¯ta¯’s Svayam ˙ vara: Why a Contest? It always comes as a shock to realize how much of what is commonly regarded as integral to the meta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a is non-Va¯lmı¯kian. Calling this episode Sı¯ta¯’s svayam ˙ vara (self-choice of a groom) or even dhanuryajn˜a (bow sacrifice) does not apply very well to the Va¯lmı¯ki version of Ra¯ma’s stringing S´iva’s bow in Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a (VR 1.66). For one, no dhanuryajn˜a or svayam ˙ vara is held in Mithila¯ when Ra¯ma arrives. Rather, Janaka is performing a nonspecified Vedic sacrifice when Vis´va¯mitra and his two wards drop by and happen to ask to see the famous bow. There is no question of Ra¯ma’s having any competition from other kings at this occasion. The svayam ˙ vara proper seems to have taken place long ago, well before Ra¯ma arrived on the stage. Janaka relates in the past tense to the sage and his two wards how the disappointed kings after their failure to string the bow laid siege to Mithila¯ but were eventually expelled (VR 1.66.16– 25). There is no question of Sı¯ta¯ “choosing” Ra¯ma. It is not even clear whether she witnesses his feat, and she certainly does not get to lay a “victory garland” or jayama¯la¯ on his shoulders. It is her father who “chooses” for her by simply declaring that Ra¯ma is now entitled to his daughter’s hand (VR 1.66.21–23).9 I hasten to add that things are, as usual, a bit more complicated than they seem at first glance. VR in fact contains a second, slightly different and shorter version of the svayam ˙ vara story at the end of the Ayodhya¯ka¯nfi dfi a. It is an important one, however, because it is put in the mouth of none other than the bride herself. The episode, then, provides a version of the svayam ˙ vara from Sı¯ta¯’s perspective. It occurs in the context of the meeting of Sı¯ta¯ with Anasu¯ya¯, Atri’s wife.10 After exchanging pleasantries and making sure they are on the same wavelength with regard to women’s dharma (VR 2.117.17–29 and 118.1– 22), Anasu¯ya¯ requests Sı¯ta¯ to entertain her by telling the story of her svayam ˙vara. Sı¯ta¯ starts with the story of her “birth” and adoption at Janaka’s court (VR 2.118.27–33). Then she dwells on Janaka’s worries when she came of age (VR 2.118.34–37). According to Sı¯ta¯, these worries made Janaka decide to hold

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a svayam ˙ vara and set the test of the bow as the condition for Sı¯ta¯’s marriage (VR 2.118.38–42). Many kings failed, but “after a good long time” Ra¯ma appeared and succeeded (VR 2.118.43–49). So, Va¯lmı¯ki’s “take two” of the episode allows for the possibility that Ra¯ma was present at the svayam ˙ vara ceremony proper, and that the “sacrifice” he came to see was indeed the dhanuryajn˜a. The svayam ˙ vara setting and the competition element are a given for the TV version. Sa¯gar follows very closely the lead of Tulsı¯da¯s, who had already used the competition setting in his Ma¯nas. Tulsı¯ in turn seemed to have borrowed it from the Sanskrit dramatic tradition (Vaudeville 1955, 108–109). One minor difference between TVR and RCM is that in TVR the arrival of Vis´va¯mitra is no mere coincidence. In an earlier episode (TVR 5.77), we learn that Janaka had sent an invitation to the sage for the event and that he is pleased to learn that Vis´va¯mitra has come. Tulsı¯ had fully exploited the background of competition to demonstrate the greatness of Ra¯ma, and Sa¯gar follows suit. The appearance of Ra¯ma in this public setting becomes a major occasion for dars´ana. When Ra¯ma enters the hall where the contest is to take place, Tulsı¯ makes this explicit in his famous line “Everyone saw the Lord’s image in the light of the emotion they felt” (jinha kem ˙ rahı¯ bha¯vana¯ jaisı¯, prabhu mu¯rati tinha dekhı¯ taisı¯; RCM 1.241.2b). In TVR this very line is quoted, and the camera registers the reactions of the different parties present. Tulsı¯ goes on to describe several rasas in which Ra¯ma was seen by different groups of spectators, to create, one could say, a case of multidimensional dars´ana. Tulsı¯ then provides a nakha-s´ikha (toe-to-head) description of the two brothers (RCM 1.242 doha¯–244.1). Sa¯gar’s camera lingers on the image of the brothers to provide a dars´ana, but there are no further quotes from RCM. Notwithstanding the background of the contest, in Tulsı¯’s RCM there is never any real doubt that Ra¯ma will win.11 On the morning of the contest, Tulsı¯’s Laksfi manfi a predicts that “someone on whom Vis´va¯mitra’s grace (krfipa¯) rests” will be the winner (RCM 1.240.1b). Sa¯gar reworks this incident in modern Hindı¯, and adds a short scene before it, where Laksfi manfi a expresses to Ra¯ma how eager he is to attend the svayam ˙ vara. Ra¯ma, however keeps his cool and teaches a Gı¯ta¯-esque lesson of detachment to his brother, saying “At the time of a test one should not be excited, one should only concentrate on one’s action” (parı¯ksfia¯ ke samay uttejit nahı¯m ˙ hona¯ ca¯hie; keval apne karm par dhya¯n rakhna¯ ca¯hie; TVR 7.93). By doing so, Sa¯gar has reinforced the sense of predestination, as well as set up Ra¯ma as a model for disciplined human behavior. The contest is not a real test but rather a blueprint, an occasion to set an example. Exemplary disciplined behavior is also displayed by Sı¯ta¯. We should recall that in VR, Sı¯ta¯ is nowhere on the scene; she does not even seem to merit a description of her beauty. Only the miraculous story of her “birth” is recounted by Janaka (VR 1.66.13–14), and that in one breath with the history of the bow (VR 1.66.8–12). In contrast, Tulsı¯da¯s provides a full dars´ana. Although he spends many more words on the beauty of Ra¯ma than of Sı¯ta¯, Sı¯ta¯ is very much on the scene. Tulsı¯ gallantly spends a whole karfiavak 1.247 to say there is no comparison for her, and calls her World Mother, or Jagadambika¯ (RCM


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1.247.1a) and Jagata Jananı¯ (RCM 1.248.1b). Notwithstanding these exalted titles, Sı¯ta¯ is a character of flesh and blood. Whereas Ra¯ma does not lose his cool, Sı¯ta¯ definitely does. After all, she is the ideal bhakta or devotee. Tulsı¯ describes how her agitated eyes scan the room for Ra¯ma (RCM 1.248.4). Tulsı¯ hastens to stress her self-control, however; out of respect to her elders (gurujana la¯ja), she turns her eyes to her friends, while keeping Ra¯ma’s image locked in her heart (RCM 1.248 doha¯). Sa¯gar does not miss this occasion to make the heroine conform to conventional morality (marya¯da¯). His Sı¯ta¯ enacts this scenario while these very lines from RCM are cited (TVR 7.95). In case the message had not gotten across clearly, Sa¯gar seems to have felt the need to appear on the screen in person to explicitly address the issue of appropriate behavior. After the ninth episode, there is an appearance of the director on the video; he comments on the events he has portrayed (this is not transcribed in the edition by Mizokami). He does not quite apologize for the preceding episode with the phu¯lva¯rı¯ or “flower garden” episode, where Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯ are portrayed as falling in love, but apparently feels compelled to clarify some issues. He stresses first that the love of the divine couple is eternal, and that this was just their first meeting since they had descended on earth. Moreover, he stresses that although they feel romantic love, their behavior remains fully within conventional morality (marya¯da¯ ka¯ pu¯rnfi a a¯caranfi ). He stresses that at every step Ra¯ma¯yanfi a teaches conventional morality and discipline (marya¯da¯ and sam ˙ yam).12 What is going on, I think, is that Sa¯gar tries to warn the young and eager that Sı¯ta¯ and Ra¯ma’s courtship is no justification for “love marriages.”

Feelings Tulsı¯ uses the svayam ˙ vara contest to create dramatic tension.13 He fully exploits the irony of the avatar, who acts like a human but is in fact God himself. Whereas Tulsı¯’s audience was, of course, aware of Ra¯ma’s divinity, most of his characters act as if they are unaware of it, including Sı¯ta¯. Tulsı¯ provides a window into the minds of all present at the contest, and their own personal worries and desires about the outcome. This outpouring of emotions works well within RCM’s general agenda of promoting emotional devotion or bhakti. Sa¯gar pretty much follows suit, but there are some interesting differences. First, when the kings see handsome Ra¯ma, they figure that Sı¯ta¯ will choose him even if he does not break the bow (RCM 1.245.2). In TVR they even consider the test to be foul play on behalf of Janaka, and they voice the opinion that the match is pre-fixed (TVR 7.94). This is doubly ironic, of course, given that the match was indeed made in heaven, so to speak. To some extent this is underscored by an implicit equation of the bow with Sı¯ta¯. The bow will not yield to anyone except Sı¯ta¯’s rightful husband. Tulsı¯da¯s had suggested as much in the scene where all the kings try but the bow refuses to budge, by likening the bow to a satı¯, or virtuous woman who does not give in to a suitor’s pleas (dfi agai na sam ˙ bhu sara¯sanu kaisem ˙ , ka¯mı¯ bacana satı¯ manu jaisem ˙ ; RCM 251.1b).

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Significantly, in TVR this line is recited (TVR 7.97). Sa¯gar must have been aware of the implications of the comparison, and, as we shall see, they suit his purpose of legitimizing further Sı¯ta¯’s love for Ra¯ma. In RCM, when all the kings are defeated, Janaka expresses his despair at ever finding a real male (vı¯ra) who can lift the bow and be a true match for his daughter (RCM 1.251.3b–252.3). There is irony here too, in that the audience knows he is about to obtain the best match of all. Sa¯gar follows Tulsı¯, and stresses even more explicitly Janaka’s moral quandary. Either he is to break his vow or not marry off his daughter: “If I break my word, I’ll be called a blot on my family name and I’ll destroy all the good deeds of my ancestors. If I keep my word, my daughter will remain a virgin for this whole life, and the sin of rendering her life useless will be on my head” (agar maim ˙ yah praitjnfi a¯ todfi du¯m ˙ to kul ka¯kalank kahla¯u¯, pu¯rvajom ˙ ke sukrfit nae¯fit karu¯m ˙ aur maim ˙ apna¯ pra¯nfi rakhu¯m ˙ to merı¯ putrı¯ a¯janma kum ˙ va¯rı¯ rahegı¯ uska¯ jı¯van viphal karne ka¯ pa¯p mere sir carfihega¯; TVR 7.98). Sa¯gar’s Janaka is concerned with the wider repercussions, not just for himself, but for his whole lineage. By comparison, no such despair is voiced in the Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a by Va¯lmı¯ki’s Janaka. It merely seems that Janaka was pressured by the other kings into organizing a svayam ˙ vara (which predated Ra¯ma’s visit) (VR 1.66.17–18). In the fourteenth-century source text of Tulsı¯, the Adhya¯tma Ra¯ma¯yanfi a (AR), Janaka is not worried at all, which he himself explains later, after the wedding. Long ago Na¯rada had disclosed to him that Sı¯ta¯, who is really Laksfi mı¯, was only to be married to Ra¯ma, who is really Visfi nfi u. This very disclosure was the reason for his strict condition on Sı¯ta¯’s marriage (AR 1.6.58–75). The contrast of these relatively unworried Janakas with Sa¯gar’s Janaka is striking. One might speculate that the stress on a girl’s father’s plight in the TVR strikes a chord in a contemporary situation where the requirement of a high dowry makes it problematic to marry off daughters to truly “suitable boys.” Ironically, in the real-life situation, the frustration of the father with finding the right match for his daughter is caused not by any inability on the part of the groom but rather the inability of the bride’s family to meet the groom’s party’s financial demands. To return to the story, in both RCM and TVR, Laksfi manfi a takes strong offense to Janaka’s words, especially his claim that there seem to be no true men or heroes left on earth. However, he is calmed down by his brother and his guru. Eventually, Vis´va¯mitra urges Ra¯ma to lift (or rather break) the bow. In RCM, when Ra¯ma “steps up to the plate” to lift the bow, Sı¯ta¯’s mother vents her worry about this tender boy being able to pull off such a task (RCM 1.255 doha¯–256.3a), which in turn provides the occasion for one of the ladies-inwaiting to reflect on deceiving appearances with several examples from mythology (RCM 256.3b–257.2a). Sa¯gar seems to have particularly liked the perspective of the girl’s mother, because he has Sunayana¯ vent her worries twice, once during the futile operations of the kings (TVR 7.97), and later, as in RCM, when Ra¯ma takes his turn (TVR 7.99). The second occasion is modeled after RCM, with the difference that it is her sister-in-law, Kus´adhvaja’s wife, who tries to comfort Sun-


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ayana¯ with the platitude that whatever is to be will come true. In Sa¯gar’s version, Sunayana¯ is not happy with that answer, musing that the king seems to have gone mad to let such a young boy try and lift the bow. For more ironic effect, Sa¯gar also has the other assembled kings ridicule Ra¯ma for his apparent immaturity. Finally, Sa¯gar has heightened the dramatical tension by breaking off the episode just before its climax. Doordarshan spectators had to wait a week before the tension would be relieved by Ra¯ma’s actually lifting the bow. RCM and TVR also provide a window into Sı¯ta¯’s thoughts at the moment of Ra¯ma’s test. Sı¯ta¯ is prey to serious doubts, apparently having forgotten all about the divinity of her partner-to-be. Tulsı¯ provides a touching episode where Sı¯ta¯ ardently beseeches the gods that they may lift the heaviness of the bow so that Ra¯ma can lift it and she can become his (RCM 1.257.3–4). TVR quotes these same lines while the camera focuses on Sı¯ta¯, interspersing her worried face with pictures of S´iva-Pa¯rvatı¯ and Ganfi es´a, as appropriate (TVR 8.100). Then the TVR singers jump ahead a few verses in RCM to Sı¯ta¯’s humble voicing of her desire: “If in body, mind, and words, my vow is true, that my soul is attracted to the dust of Raghupati’s feet; then, Lord, you who dwell in everyone’s heart, make me the maid-servant of Raghuvara” (tana mana vacana mora panu sa¯ca¯, raghupati pada saroja citu ra¯ca¯; tau bhagava¯nu sakala ura ba¯sı¯, karahi mohi raghubara kai da¯sı¯; RCM 1.259.2b–3a). Special stress is placed on these lines by singling out the first and last half-verse for repetition (TVR 8.100). The last line is further stressed in that it is delivered in declamation, not sung, as the rest is. Such humble desires may seem out of place in a contemporary context, and a priori one might have expected these lines to be dropped. Still, Sa¯gar chose to quote them rather emphatically. This is no coincidence. As we shall see, Sa¯gar later explicitly “updates” the traditional view of wife as servant (da¯sı¯) of the husband, yet even on that occasion, he in effect portrays Sı¯ta¯ as ready to play the subservient role. In TVR, the ideal woman sees herself as subservient to her husband, her lord. These lines are explicitly set up as having general relevance; the next verse in Tulsı¯ reads, “Who truly loves, will get his true love, there is no doubt about it” (jehi kem ˙ jehi para satya sanehu¯, so tehi milai na kachu sam ˙ dehu¯; RCM 1.259.3b). The catch here, of course, is the stipulation “a love that is true” (satya sanehu¯). Sı¯ta¯’s submissive attitude is generalized, and the message is that this will be the one that is rewarded in the end. We should remember here too how the bow was earlier compared to a satı¯, unyielding to anyone except her righteous husband. The image of the satı¯ merges with the idea of true love, or satya sanehu¯. Sa¯gar adds at this point flashback images of the goddess Pa¯rvatı¯, who granted Sı¯ta¯ the boon of the groom of her choice in the previous episode (see Pauwels 2000). These images reinforce the legitimacy of her desire, in view of the previously obtained divine sanction. Having paid close attention to what Sa¯gar quotes from RCM, we should also note what Sa¯gar leaves out. In the ardor of the moment, Tulsı¯ allows Sı¯ta¯ in her thoughts a split second of rebellion against her father’s harsh condition for her marriage: “Alas, what terrible insistence of my father, he does not understand at all what brings benefit, what harm” (ahaha ta¯ta da¯runi hatfiha

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fitha¯nı¯, samujhata nahim ˙ kachu la¯bhu na ha¯nı¯; RCM 1.258.1b). She goes on to criticize, as her mother did out loud, the ministers and learned men present for not stopping such a tender boy from taking on such a big task. She thinks to herself that the bow should have become light for Ra¯ma to lift, now that its obtuseness (jarfiata¯, lifelessness or stupidity) seems to have been transferred on everyone present (RCM 1.258.4a). She does not shy away from criticizing the whole gathering of venerable elders as dull-witted (sakala sabha¯ kai mati bhai bhorı¯; RCM 1.258.3b). Sa¯gar does not allow his Sı¯ta¯ even that much loss of decorum in her thoughts, and leaves out these verses altogether. Whatever Sı¯ta¯’s private wish in favor of Ra¯ma, in TVR she submits fully to parental authority. Far from getting to speak out about her private preferences to her confidantes, the very thoughts are suppressed. Finally, in both TVR and RCM, we also get a window into Ra¯ma’s feelings and an interesting perspective on what prompts him to action. In the Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, there was not much psychological background. Significantly, though, it was Ra¯ma himself who took the initiative to lift the bow and string it (though he proceded to do so only after having received the permission of his guru and the king). Tulsı¯’s and Sa¯gar’s Ra¯ma is much less keen to act. He waits for and then rather meekly follows the command of his guru. Again, the irony of the incarnation is central: God the almighty defers to mere mortals. To top off the irony, Tulsı¯’s Ra¯ma prays to Ganfi es´a before lifting the bow (RCM 1.255.4). Sa¯gar leaves out this line, but shows Ra¯ma as bowing his head respectfully as he prepares for the task. In both TVR and RCM the scene is stretched out to build tension, but ultimately it becomes clear that what prompts Ra¯ma to lift the bow is compassion for Sı¯ta¯. He acts really to save Sı¯ta¯ from the horrible tension she is going through (RCM 1.259.3–4 and RCM 260 doha¯–261.2; the latter are quoted in TVR). Tulsı¯’s bhakti agenda is to highlight Ra¯ma’s compassion as the motivation for his actions, notwithstanding his total self-sufficiency as supreme God. Central to the episode is the irony that this all-powerful God has to go through the motions of proving himself. In that limited sense, the scene could be seen as a counterpart to Sı¯ta¯’s agniparı¯ksfia¯ or fire ordeal. Here Ra¯m is on trial and has to prove himself publicly worthy of Sı¯ta¯, although we know all along that there is no doubt he is.14 The main point, though, is that Ra¯ma acts for the sake of his devotees. Sı¯ta¯ may prompt Ra¯ma into action, but it would be a mistake to interpret that as a move to turn Sı¯ta¯ into S´akti, the female empowering principle. True, Sı¯ta¯ is called “Mother of the World” at several occasions, yet it is not Sı¯ta¯’s power that empowers Ra¯ma but rather her powerlessness. The thoughts that flash through Ra¯ma’s head just before he lifts the bow are not flattering; there is even a comparison with a corpse: “When a thirsting man, for want of water, has left his body, what use is a lake of nectar for his corpse? What’s rain when all crops have dried up? Why let the moment pass and be sorry afterward?” (trfisfiita ba¯ri binu jo tanu tya¯ga¯, muem ˙ karai ka¯ sudha¯ tarfia¯ga¯; ka¯ barasfia¯ saba krfisfi¯ı sukha¯nem ˙ , samaya cukem ˙ puni ka¯ pachita¯nem ˙ ; RCM 1.261.1b–2a). Although these lines have strong dramatic force, they may seem a bit matter-of-fact for


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romantic love. Still, Sa¯gar singles out these verses for quotation in his TVR (8.100), but he does something interesting with them. He succeeds in making the reference of these lines less pointedly to Sı¯ta¯, by focusing the camera alternately on her, her father, and her mother. In this way, Sa¯gar manages to suggest that Ra¯ma acted out of grace for the whole Mithila¯ family, without ever changing an aksfiara in Tulsı¯’s work. In his editorial comment, Sa¯gar voices an emphasis that is in fact opposite to Tulsı¯’s version. Tulsı¯ wanted to highlight Ra¯ma’s compassion, and consequently he stressed that Ra¯ma’s action was inspired by Sı¯ta¯’s despair. Sa¯gar, in his editorial comment, stresses that Ra¯ma acts only on his guru’s command, although he knew very well about Sı¯ta¯’s state of mind (ha¯la¯m ˙ ki Sı¯ta¯jı¯ kı¯ adhı¯rata¯ aur vivalta¯ ko acchı¯ tarah se dekh rahe haim ˙ , aur samajh rahe haim ˙ ; not in the Mizokami transcription). Sa¯gar clearly is not so interested in Ra¯ma’s compassion as in his obedience to elders. Once the bow is broken, Tulsı¯ describes the reactions of all present, and Sa¯gar’s camera registers the joy on all the faces, though without quoting RCM this time. Tulsı¯ then lovingly describes how Sı¯ta¯ honors Ra¯ma with the jayama¯la or “garland of victory”—an element, we remember, that was totally absent from VR. Obviously, this moment lends itself well to a tableau-like scene (jha¯nfi kı¯), of which the TVR director makes full use. The camera moves from Sı¯ta¯ to Ra¯ma and back again. We behold them beholding: dars´ana all around. Surprisingly, Sa¯gar does not orchestrate the scene with any of Tulsı¯’s lovely phrases, such as “Outwardly hesitant, but inwardly ecstatic, no one can see such deep love” (tana sakocu mana parama ucha¯hu¯, gu¯rfiha premu lakhi parai na ka¯hu¯; RCM 1.264.2a). Instead, he inserts a “women’s song”: “Put on the Victory Garland” (pahana¯o jayama¯la¯, TVR 8.101), probably following Tulsı¯’s suggestion, “The clever girls instructed her, seeing [her being lost]: put on the beautiful Victory Garland” (catura sakhı¯m ˙ lakhi kaha¯ bujha¯¯ı, pahira¯vahu jayama¯la suha¯¯ı; RCM 1.264.3a). The instances where Sa¯gar chooses to deviate from Tulsı¯’s lead are few, but usually significant. Here is an important one. Tulsı¯’s Sı¯ta¯ does not touch Ra¯ma’s feet, even when reminded to do so by her girlfriends (RCM 1.265.4b). The reason for this, Tulsı¯ says, is that Sı¯ta¯ knows what happened to Ahalya¯ when she came in contact with Ra¯ma’s feet and shrinks in fear from such powerful feet. Tulsı¯ adds that Ra¯ma understood and just smiled at Sı¯ta¯’s extraordinary love (gautama tiya gati surati kari, nahim ˙ parasati paga pa¯ni, mana bihase raghubam ˙ samani, prı¯ti alaukika ja¯ni; RCM 1.265 doha¯). Sa¯gar’s Sı¯ta¯, however, does not suffer from such subtle qualms. She can’t help but touch her husband-to-be’s feet. During the episode, Sa¯gar instead concentrates on showing Sı¯ta¯’s feet, and stresses how shyly and reluctantly they move (as noted by Dalmia-Lu¨deritz 1991, 218–219). The breach of decorum of Tulsı¯’s Sı¯ta¯ did not find favor with Sa¯gar. Sa¯gar keeps his Sı¯ta¯ neatly within the boundaries of traditional marya¯da¯. Finally, let us return to VR’s second version of the svayam ˙ vara story. In her summary line of her story to Anasu¯ya¯, VR’s Sı¯ta¯ sums up: “Thus I was given away to Ra¯ma there at the self-choice ritual” (evam ˙ datta¯smi Ra¯ma¯ya tatha¯

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tasmin svayam ˙ vare; VR 2.118.54a) and, she adds, “I am devoted to the best of the brave, my husband by dharma (anurakta¯smi dharmenfi a patim ˙ vı¯ryavata¯m ˙ varam; VR 2.118.54b). This may seem to be a contradiction to a modern audience. Contemporary discussions tend to pit “love marriages” against “arranged marriages,” yet, Sı¯ta¯ has the magical combination: a self-choice ritual in which her father sets the terms and gives her away, and a lawful husband to whom she is genuinely devoted. Interestingly, Va¯lmı¯ki’s Sı¯ta¯ has provided here a neat summary of what Sa¯gar’s series promotes. It was all already in Va¯lmı¯ki, after all.

Wedding Ceremonies: Preliminary Rituals Initiating the Negotiations: Message to Ayodhya¯ The wedding ceremonies in all three versions start with the message to Ayodhya¯. This subepisode could be said to correspond with an ordinary wedding’s phase of the “suing,” or varapresfianfi a in the classical jargon, although that usually means the suing by the groom’s party for the bride (Kane 1974, 531–532). In contrast, here we have the party of the bride bringing the proposal to the groom’s family. In VR, the king, Janaka, takes the initiative to send a message to Das´aratha, but he makes sure to procure the blessing of Vis´va¯mitra (VR 67.24–25). This does not totally square with VR’s second description of the svayam ˙ vara, at the end of the Ayodhya¯ka¯nfi dfi a. Here Sı¯ta¯ says that Janaka was ready to give her away to Ra¯ma on the spot, and had even a vessel of water (jalabha¯jana) handy for the ritual transaction, but that Ra¯ma insisted on first securing the permission of his father (VR 2.118.50–51). This alternative reading, highlighting the respect of Ra¯ma for his father, is not taken up by either RCM or TVR, at least not at this point. In RCM and TVR, neither Ra¯ma nor Janaka takes the initiative. Instead, Janaka asks Vis´va¯mitra what to do next, and it is the sage who suggests sending messengers to Das´aratha (RCM 1.286.3–287.1; TVR 8.108). Still, Sa¯gar takes up Ra¯ma’s insistence that he ensure his father’s permission a bit later in the story, at the beginning of the wedding negotiations between Janaka and Das´aratha. When S´ata¯nanda formally proclaims the wedding proposal, he states that Ra¯ma did not wish to marry without having secured his father’s permission (pita¯ kı¯ a¯jn˜a¯ milne par hı¯ sı¯ta¯ ka¯ pa¯nfi i-grahanfi karu¯m ˙ ga¯; TVR 9.120). The incident obviously fits well with Sa¯gar’s agenda: his general stress on obedience for elders, and his insistence on making love marriages conditional upon parental approval. The reception of the message in Ayodhya¯ is related in a straightforward way in VR (1.68; the chapter is only 19 s´lokas long). Tulsı¯ “devotionalizes” the passage by turning the message into a hymn of praise to Ra¯ma (RCM 1.291 doha¯–293.3). He also adds an interesting incident. When Das´aratha seeks to reward the messengers bringing the good news, they refuse, on the basis that accepting a gift is “improper” or anı¯ti (RCM 1.293.4b). Everyone approves of the messengers’ sense of propriety. Sa¯gar duly follows Tulsı¯’s example, but


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makes it more explicit that the gift is inappropriate because the messenger cannot accept anything from his “daughter’s” sasura¯l (TVR 9.114). In VR, Das´aratha is pleased with the message, but turns immediately to his counselors, so we get no hint of his personal feelings for his sons. By contrast, in Tulsı¯’s version, Das´aratha’s feelings are highlighted. In keeping with the mood of parental emotion or va¯tsalya bha¯va, he gets tears in his eyes and can’t utter a word when he first receives the message (RCM 1.290.2–3a). Later, he inquires in a fatherly way about the well-being of his sons (RCM 1.291.2–4). This prompts the messengers to confirm the king in his paternal pride about his two sons (RCM 1.291 doha¯). The two brothers, Bharata and S´atrughna, also have a chance to demonstrate their brotherly love for Ra¯ma (RCM 1.290.4–291.1). In TVR, Bharata and S´atrughna are also pleased with the news, and Das´aratha sends a touching message back for his sons, at which point the messenger comments that Das´aratha has the nerve to call these heroes his “kids” (ba¯l) whereas the whole world is in awe of them. Here the irony of the incarnation has resurfaced again. What is radically different in the TV version is the setting in which the message is received. In VR and RCM, the scene is in public court and all the counsellors are present, whereas in TVR, it is in the king’s private quarters, in an intimate family setting.15 One may see a precedent in RCM, where Das´aratha reports to his queens (RCM 1.295.1–3), but that scene occurs only after the message has first been received and answered in court. In TVR, the news is first broken to Das´aratha while he is relaxing in the company of Kaikeyı¯. There are no official messengers, but instead the two brothers Bharata and S´atrughna report the news (TVR 9.109). They tell the story of their brother’s feat with much stress on Ra¯ma’s vı¯rya or bravery and a fair dose of good-humored family banter (TVR 9.109–111). Early in the story Kaus´alya¯ comes in too, but Sa¯gar has taken good care to suppress any hint of rivarly between co-wives. One could say he hypercorrects with a display of female solidarity: both women rave over becoming mother-in-law (sa¯s) and in the not too distant future grandma (da¯dı¯) (TVR 9.111–112). Poor Das´aratha hardly gets the chance to revel in his future grandfatherhood, as Kaikeyı¯ informs him she will be much too busy to pay any attention to him (TVR 9.112). In their joy and rosy dreams, as Kaus´alya¯ puts it, they nearly forget about the official messenger. Sa¯gar has succeeded in transforming the rather official episode into one of private family affairs. In all versions, of course, Janaka’s proposal is happily accepted. In VR, the king suggests immediately that the proposal should be accepted, if his counselors (that is, Vasisfi fitha, Va¯madeva, and the other ministers) approve of the appropriateness of the match (VR 1.68.14). Tulsı¯’s Das´aratha humbly seeks his guru Vasisfifitha’s advice, but there is hardly any doubt about the verdict. Vasisfi fitha elegantly says that the king naturally deserves the good luck that he gets, given his extensive service to guru, brahmans, cows, and gods (RCM 1.294). Sa¯gar too is careful to have Das´aratha properly consult Vasisfi fitha first (gurudev apna¯ nirnfi ay prada¯n karem ˙ . Usı¯ ke anusa¯r ka¯rya kiya¯ ja¯e; TVR 9.113). Sa¯gar’s Vasisfifitha immediately uses the situation to put a megapolitical spin to the matter, de-

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scribing the match as an appropriate alliance between two major Aryan political forces (Mithila¯ aur Ayodhya¯ ka¯ yah sambandha barfia¯ hı¯ s´ubh hai. Is sambandh ke dva¯ra¯ a¯rya¯vart kı¯ do maha¯n s´aktiyom ˙ ka¯ milan hoga¯; TVR 9.113). Finally, preparations are made for the bara¯t, or what is classically termed the vadhu¯grfihagamana or procession to the bride’s house (Kane 1974, 532). In VR we are never informed about the reaction of the queens of Ayodhya¯, but Tulsı¯ describes their joy at the news and how they immediately proceed to do charity for brahmans (RCM 1.295.4)—a typical combination of bhakti and caste dharma. Sa¯gar duly includes an episode where Kaus´alya¯ reports on her gift giving. What is new is that she gives a rationale for her actions by saying that a king cannot celebrate any private festival if even one of the subjects in his kingdom is in pain (jis ra¯ja¯ ke ra¯j mem ˙ praja¯ ka¯ ek bhı¯ pra¯nfi ¯ı du˙khı¯ rah ja¯e, unhem ˙ apna¯ koı¯ utsav mana¯ne ka¯ adhika¯r nahı¯m ˙ hota¯; TVR 9.115). Another innovation of Sa¯gar’s here is that Kaus´alya¯ sends a message to Sunayana¯, Sı¯ta¯’s mother. She gives her assurance that Sı¯ta¯ will be treated like a daughter (betfi¯ı) rather than a daughter-in-law (bahu¯), and will be taken under Kaus´alya¯’s wings (Kaus´alya¯ kı¯ mamata¯ ke a¯m ˙ cal mem ˙ sam ˙ ta¯n ke sama¯n hı¯ stha¯n pa¯egı¯; TVR 9.). Kaus´alya¯’s message sets the tone for the wedding scenes proper, where sympathy of the groom’s party (varapaksfia) with the plight of the bride’s party (kanya¯paksfia) is a major concern.

The Bara¯t’s Arrival in Mithila¯: Exemplary In-Laws Throughout the whole of the following episode the groom’s party (varapaksfia) is painstakingly concerned with treating the bride’s party (kanya¯paksfia) as not inferior and with sympathizing with their plight. This preoccupation implies two things: on the one hand that this is exceptional and opposite to what normally would be the case, and on the other that the bride’s party has something to worry about. Interestingly, one can trace this aspect all the way back to VR. There is nothing explicit about the bride’s family’s worries in the version of the wedding as related in VR’s Ba¯lakanfi dfi a. Still, we find out about Janaka’s worries when Sı¯ta¯ tells her story to Anasu¯ya¯ in the Ayodhya¯ka¯nfi dfi a. One of the most striking aspects of her story is that Sı¯ta¯ lovingly portrays Janaka’s worries when she comes of age, and sympathizes with his fears of losing prestige in having to look for a groom. Apparently it was already then a well-known truth that “In the world, the father of a girl experiences ill-treatment from equals and inferiors, be he similar to S´akra on earth” (sadrfis´a¯cca¯pakrfisfifita¯cca loke kanya¯pia¯ jana¯t, pradharsfianfi am ava¯pnoti s´akrenfi a¯pi samo bhuvi; VR 2.118.35). Through this little “lapse” of Sı¯ta¯ in the Ayodhya¯ka¯nfi dfi a, the story as related in Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a takes on a new meaning. Sı¯ta¯’s lapse can be interpreted as setting up a pu¯rvapaksfia or problem, namely, the inequality of bride-givers and bridetakers. The stress on Das´aratha’s generosity in treating Janaka as an equal in Ba¯laka¯nfi dfi a can be read as a solution to this implicit problem. This is apparent in the exchange between Janaka and Das´aratha upon first meeting one another when the bara¯t arrives in Mithila¯. The episode corresponds to the traditional


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madhuparka or lavish reception of the bridegroom’s party at the bride’s house (Kane 1974, 532). As behooves the father of a bride, Janaka goes out of his way to welcome Das´aratha respectfully in his hometown. What is surprising is that Das´aratha reciprocates in kind. He humbly answers with a proverb “The receiver 16 is in the power of the granter” (pratigraho da¯trfivas´ahfi ; VR 1.69.14), specifying, “We shall do as you will say, O wise man” (yatha¯ vaksfiyasi dharmajn˜a tat karisfiya¯mahe; VR 1.69.15). Though the proverb is a formula of politeness, meaning that one does not refuse a gift (Goldman 1984, 387), still the answer is considered surprisingly humble for the father of the groom. VR itself refers to this answer as surprising (vismayam; VR 1.69.1). The proverb, interestingly, is one of the few literal quotes from VR that Sa¯gar introduces in his version (TVR 9.116). The quotation occurs in a longer passage of niceties interchanged by the two rulers on their first meeting. Janaka welcomes Das´aratha humbly, and expresses his joy at this match with the prestigious Raghukula. Das´aratha says that he is tied by the strings of love (prem kı¯ dfi or mem ˙ bam ˙ dhe). Vasisfi fitha specifies that the match and alliance between Mithila¯ and Ayodhya¯ is all God’s wish (parames´var kı¯ iccha¯). When he calls this connection one of equals (bara¯bar ke sam ˙ bam ˙ dhı¯), Janaka feels compelled to protest that he, as father of the bride, is the subordinate (da¯s) of Das´aratha. Das´aratha then turns the tables and insists that he is like a beggar who has come to Janaka’s door to ask for alms (ek ya¯cak, ek bhikha¯rı¯—jo a¯pke dva¯r par a¯pkı¯ kanya¯ ka¯ da¯n ma¯m ˙ gne a¯ya¯ hai). He quotes the Sanskrit proverb from VR (pratigraho da¯trfivas´a˙) to prove the point that it is the giver who is in charge, and he humbly offers to carry out Janaka’s wishes (a¯p jo a¯jn˜a¯ karem ˙ ge, vah hamem ˙ s´irodha¯rya hogı¯).17 The solemn tone of these declarations is strikingly different from Tulsı¯’s version, where spontaneous joy is the order of the day. Tulsı¯ takes delight in describing the richness of the welcoming party (agava¯na) and the delicacies and presents it brings to the bara¯t (RCM 1.304 doha¯–305.3 and 306.2–3). A nice detail is that Sı¯ta¯ herself calls attention to her power by sending the siddhis (spirits who bring success) to welcome the guests (RCM 1.306.4–doha¯). When the two parties catch a glance of one another, they cannot contain themselves any more and run into each other’s arms (RCM 1.305.4–doha¯).18 All this abundance of emotions fits well with Tulsı¯’s bhakti agenda, but creates a strikingly different atmosphere from the exalted seriousness of Sa¯gar and VR. Still, Tulsı¯ too is preoccupied with the exceptional situation where the inlaws (samadhı¯) are treating each other as equals. He expresses this most clearly of all three versions. When Janaka and Das´aratha first meet at their children’s wedding altar (manfi dfi apa), Tulsı¯ has the gods comment that “Since the creation of the world, we have seen many weddings; but such preparations and attendance, equal in all ways, such balance of in-law parties, we’ve seen only today” (jagu biram ˙ ci upaja¯va¯ jaba tem ˙ , dekhe sune bya¯ha bahu taba tem ˙ ; sakala bha¯m ˙ ti sama sa¯ju sama¯ju¯, sama samadhı¯ dekhe hama a¯ju¯; RCM 1.320.3). It appears that even the gods are surprised when the girl’s party is treated on equal terms. Finally, let us return to the TV series, where this anomaly is set up as an example. Sa¯gar expresses his own comment in the same “editorial appearance”

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at the end of the ninth episode I have already referred to above. He quotes the full s´loka from Va¯lmı¯ki where Das´aratha expresses his eagerness to carry out Janaka’s command. Sa¯gar singles out Das´aratha’s not insisting upon the prerogatives of the vara-paksfia as exemplary for today’s society, and reflects on how, if that behavior found imitators nowadays, many tensions would disappear from Indian society, how an environment of love would come about, and the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a story would come true (Ra¯ma¯yanfi kı¯ katha¯ sa¯rthik ho ja¯tı¯). Interestingly, the tense he uses is the “irrealis” or counterfactual, implying impossibility of the condition being fulfilled.

Family Reunion: Authority of the Elder Male The next scene in the story is the reunion of the father Das´aratha and his sons Ra¯ma and Laksfi manfi a. This is dealt with in VR in just two s´lokas. Va¯lmı¯ki says that the two brothers touched their father’s feet after having duly let the sage Vis´va¯mitra proceed (vis´va¯mitram ˙ puraskrfitya; VR 1.69.18). Tulsı¯ adds a little dramatic action: he has the two brothers hesitate to express their eagerness to see their father. Vis´va¯mitra, however, is pleased with their humbleness and takes them to see Das´aratha (RCM 1.307.2–4). Agency is transferred to the sage. The king then first does a full prostration (dfi am ˙ dfi avata) for the holy man, and embraces his sons only after the sage gives his blessing (RCM 1.308.1). It wouldn’t be Tulsı¯’s work, however, if all this decorum were not balanced by ecstasy of emotion. True to form, he adds a comparison of the king’s joy with a dead man coming to life again (mrfitaka sarı¯ra pra¯na janu bhem ˙ fite; RCM 1.308.2b). Sa¯gar clearly liked Tulsı¯’s version, but goes a step further by splitting up the characters of Ra¯ma and Laksfi manfi a in a “good cop, bad cop” routine. The latter, in his youthful enthusiasm, is all set to go and meet with his father, but Ra¯ma points out that they should not act on their own account and suggests that they wait until their guru brings up the matter himself, on grounds that they are dependent on Vis´va¯mitra’s command (Guru Vis´va¯mitra kı¯ a¯jn˜a¯ ke adhı¯n haim ˙ ; TVR 9.117). Vis´va¯mitra then praises Ra¯ma’s savoir faire (s´isfifita¯ca¯r) and takes them to see their father. The reunion is perfect for a jha¯nfi kı¯, and Sa¯gar exploits this fully. In the background, the verses from RCM about Das´aratha’s prostration to the guru and embrace of his sons are quoted, while the characters enact Tulsı¯’s lines. This stress on deference for elder males is reinforced by the next scene, an innovation in Sa¯gar’s TVR. We have an intimate scene of father and son “getting caught up,” while Ra¯ma is massaging his father’s feet (TVR 9.118–119). The docile subservience of the son is underlined by the conversation. When Das´aratha compliments him on his exemplary behavior, Ra¯ma protests that it was really his father who was the source of inspiration (preranfi a¯srota) of all he has done. He also says his father’s example provided him guidance (ma¯rga-dars´ana) even when he was far away. Das´aratha insists that Ra¯ma’s behavior is superior to his own in that Ra¯ma did not act for self-glorification. Ra¯ma smilingly comments that each father lovingly sings the praise of his own son. He attributes all his own actions to the duty (kartavya) of carrying out his


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father’s wishes, even the unspoken ones. Das´aratha then pseudo-teasingly asks him to whose inspiration the lifting of the bow is to be attributed. At this point some romantic music is heard, suggesting the obvious answer, namely Sı¯ta¯’s inspiration. This undermines to some extent the total obedience of Ra¯ma. However, this is just one little “rupture” in the otherwise perfectly tied-up text of Sa¯gar. Ra¯ma’s father then dismisses his son lovingly, without uttering any word of disapproval and thus implicitly approving of the romantic liaison.

The Nuptial Rituals The Nature of Wedlock: Private and Public Perspectives Sa¯gar’s next scene is again an innovation (TVR 9.119–120). We catch Laksfi manfi a in the middle of a passionate report to Bharata and S´atrughna about Ra¯ma’s state of mind after the first meeting with Sı¯ta¯. Ra¯ma arrives unexpectedly, and Laksfi manfi a sheepishly admits what he was talking about (bha¯bhı¯ ke pahle dars´an kaise hue). S´atrughna then teasingly asks Ra¯ma where he got this loveeducation (prem kı¯ s´iksfia¯), given that gurus don’t teach prem-s´a¯stra. Ra¯ma’s answer is dead serious. He lectures about “primordial love” (pahle se hı¯ nirdha¯rit), saying that cannot be forced by man (jo manusfiya ke bana¯ne se nahı¯m ˙ banta¯). Ra¯ma insists that his love for Sı¯ta¯ came about in the same way that nature (prakrfiti) teaches mothers to love childeren, brothers to love brothers, and the waves of the ocean to be attracted by the moon. Love for a spouse is preordained by God (vidha¯ta¯). So when man meets his mate, all he has to do is to put full trust and love in her, so that afterward his attention will not even turn elsewhere (manusfiya ko ca¯hie ki jab usse bhem ˙ fit ho to apna¯ sampu¯rnfi a vis´va¯s, sampu¯rnfi a prem use saum ˙ p de jis se uske pas´ca¯t jı¯van mem ˙ kisı¯ du¯srı¯ or dhya¯n hı¯ na ja¯e). In this scene, Sa¯gar is again working hard to come to terms with the “problem” raised by the flower garden scene. He is addressing a possible objection (pu¯rvapaksfia) that the marriage of Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯ is really a love marriage that just happens to be sanctioned by the elders. By giving Ra¯ma’s private perspective, Sa¯gar manages to stress that the match was “made in heaven,” that it was not a matter of the girl or the boy’s initiative, and that the wedding is arranged, even preordained after all. The same concern is highlighted from a public angle in the next scene, showing a full court meeting of Janaka and Das´aratha with their counselors (TVR 9.120–121). Vasisfi fitha gets the floor for a longish lecture on the meaning of marriage. He starts out by saying that a wedding is not a personal affair but a social sacrament (viva¯h vyaktigat ka¯rya nahı¯m ˙ hai, yah ek sa¯ma¯jik sam ˙ ska¯r hai). It is not just a matter of a man and a woman tying the knot, but together with them are joined their societies, their families, and their religions (keval ek strı¯ aur ek purusfi ke gatfih-bam ˙ dhan ko hı¯ viva¯h nahı¯m ˙ kah sakte kyom ˙ ki un donom ˙ vyaktiyom ˙ ke sa¯th unka¯ sama¯j unka¯ kul, unka¯ dharm jurfia¯ hota¯ hai). One could say that, according to Vasisfifitha, rather than a meeting of hearts it is a meeting of families (do kulom ˙ ka¯ sam ˙ gam). Clearly, Sa¯gar has worked hard to transmit his message to the younger

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generation. This is no love marriage, but, as Janaka’s guru, S´ata¯nanda, had put it, a “gift of a bride” according to custom and religion (vidhipu¯rvak aur dharmpu¯rvak kanya¯da¯n). In case anyone would miss this point, Sa¯gar, in his “editorial appearance,” elaborates the point that a wedding is not a personal affair but societal and familial. As indicated above, he connects this issue with the romantic flower garden (phu¯lva¯rı¯) episode in the same speech.

Prepatory Arrangements: Settling of Parties and Date, and Material Preparations The public meeting that takes place to determine the specifics could be said to correspond to the classical “settling the marriage” known as va¯gda¯na or va¯nfi inis´caya (Kane 1974, 532). First to be determined are the parties that will be wedded. Up till now that seemed to be only Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯. In VR, it seems to ¯ rmila¯, be understood that Laksfi manfi a is to marry Janaka’s other daughter, U because Janaka does preparatory rituals for both his daughters (VR 1.69.19). However, it is not till the public meeting in Mithila¯ that Vasisfi fitha sues for both Janaka’s daughters (VR 1.70.45), and Vis´va¯mitra then proposes a fourfold wedding, in which Bharata and S´atrughna are also to marry the daughters of Kus´adhvaja (VR 1.72.1–8). Sa¯gar follows Va¯lmı¯ki (TVR 9.121–122), though he does not forget to let his camera roam to the women’s quarter to register surprise and happiness at the expansion of the matches. Kus´adhvaja and Laksfi manfi a are shown to be happy with the proposals in a dignified way. The reasons given for the fourfold wedding are slightly different in TVR: Va¯lmı¯ki’s Vis´va¯mitra seeks to strengthen the alliance between the two houses, whereas Sa¯gar’s Vis´va¯mitra judges that it is not proper that two of the four brothers should remain bachelors.19 Sa¯gar not only registers the joy of Sunayana¯ and Kus´adhvaja’s wife when they hear the news up in the balcony, but also adds a scene where the girls themselves are informed about the news. There is much joy upon hearing that the four “sisters” will go to the same sasura¯l. Interestingly, in Tulsı¯’s version, the suggestion of the fourfold wedding comes first from the women of Mithila¯, when they behold the arrival of the bara¯t (RCM 1.311 chand). One could say that in RCM the wedding parties are expanded on popular demand. It is significant that Tulsı¯ gives so much airtime to the people of Mithila¯, and stresses their comments approving of the match (RCM 1.309.4–311). Next, the date of the wedding is fixed. Sı¯ta¯ and Ra¯ma’s wedding is to take place at an auspicious moment, of course, as determined by astrologers. Va¯lmı¯ki has it fixed for the second day (uttara) of the two phalgunı¯s (a particular astrological alignment) in which Praja¯pati Bhaga presides (VR 1.72.13, also VR 1.71.24; in both cases it is Janaka who suggests this date). The phalgunı¯s seem to have been recognized as auspicious dates from a very early point, even in the Vedic tradition (Kane 1974, 512). In Tulsı¯’s version, the auspicious moment (lagna) is in the winter month of Agahan. He is not more specific, but assures us that the precise astrological conjunction (naksfiatra) is super-auspicious in all respects. Eager to establish the credentials of his deviating date, he claims that the creator himself had researched it, and sent it to Janaka via Na¯rada. As


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it turned out, Janaka’s astrologers had calculated the very same day (mam ˙ gala mu¯la lagana dinu a¯va¯, hima ritu agahanu ma¯su suha¯va¯; graha tithi nakhatu jogu bara ba¯ru¯, lagana sodhi bidhi kı¯nha bica¯ru¯; patfihai dı¯nhi na¯rada sana soı¯, ganı¯ janaka ke ganakanha joı¯; RCM 1.312.3–4a). Sa¯gar apparently did not buy this, and chose to follow VR. In TVR, S´ata¯nanda suggests uttara¯ pha¯lgunı¯ (the second day of the conjunction) as the naksfiatra, thus sticking with a spring wedding around Holı¯ (TVR 9.122). As regards the material preparations for the wedding, Tulsı¯’s version is replete with loving descriptions, whereas there is much less of the kind in Va¯lmı¯ki’s text. VR has a short description of the preparation of the wedding altar or vedi (VR 1.73.20–24, a passage that is not retained in the critical edition), which is brimming with Vedic sacrificial references. Tulsı¯, on the other hand, has an elaborate description of the manfi dfi apa’s beauty, which has little to do with sacrificial sites (RCM 1.287.2–89 and 320 chand), though it is one of the classical steps in a wedding, called manfi dfi apakaranfi a (Kane 1974, 532). Interestingly, Sa¯gar first shows the manfi dfi apa while the priests are busy purifying the site, engaged in sacrificial prepatory activities, and reciting Sanskrit mantras from the Yajurveda (TVR 10.130). Sa¯gar thus hearkens back to Va¯lmı¯ki’s Vedic sacrificial stress. With regard to the bara¯t, Va¯lmı¯ki again uses only a few s´lokas on the topic (VR 1.69.1–6), which are hardly worth mentioning compared to Tulsı¯’s wealth of physical details about horses, chariots, and even amphibi-cars that can traverse water and land (RCM 1.298–302).20 Interestingly, Sa¯gar does not portray the bara¯t with horses and chariots, but shows the grooms and their party only when they arrive in the palace halls on foot. Limitations on the budget may have played a role here. Still, in general, TVR has recourse to its extra visual dimension. Without having to quote Tulsı¯, Sa¯gar has provided a lavish, though by Bollywood standards low-budget, set for the wedding scenes.

Tradition, Great and Little The ceremonies preceding the wedding day in VR focus on the recitation of the lineages of the parties to be married by Vasisfi fitha and Janaka. The better part of two chapters (VR 1.70.19–45 and 71.1–15) are devoted to the topic. Janaka adds to his family history a “disclosure” about the particular geopolitical situation of his kingdom (VR 1.71.16–19). It sounds like an oral legal contract, a model document for kings who wish to intermarry their offspring. Sa¯gar too accommodates some recitation of the ancient genealogy of the Raghukula in his version. It fits in well after Vasisfi fitha’s sermon on marriage as in essence a union of two families. Naturally, then, the family tree of Ra¯ma is relevant. This stands in contrast to Tulsı¯, who cuts out such dry parts to make room for more bhakti moments. Tulsı¯ prefers to focus on different auspicious moments of high emotional content, which he underlines by switching to a different meter (chand). Much later, in the midst of the actual nuptial rituals, Tulsı¯ simply remarks in passing that the gurus recite the lineages (sa¯khoca¯ru dou kulagura karaim ˙ ; RCM 1.324 chand 3.a). Va¯lmı¯ki also highlights among the activities prior to the wedding certain

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traditional ceremonies that have a Vedic ring, in particular Das´aratha’s sons’ ceremony of “the gift of cows” (goda¯na) and the rite to the ancestors (pitrfika¯rya), which are (in the Gı¯ta¯ Press translation) interpreted as the Vedic rites sama¯vartana, the ceremony ending study with guru, and na¯ndı¯s´ra¯ddha, a rite for deceased ancestors preceding wedding (VR 1.71.23; see also Kane 1974, 405– 411 and 532). The cows are described in much detail (VR 1.72.21–24).21 Tulsı¯ also describes Das´aratha’s big goda¯na, presided over by Vasisfi fitha, but this takes place only after the wedding proper is over and is combined with other gift giving to beggars (RCM 1.330.4–331). Sa¯gar follows his sources to some extent. Here too, Das´aratha is urged at the end of the meeting to settle the wedding details, to have a goda¯na and na¯ndı¯mukha s´rı¯ka¯rya (TVR 9.122). However, in Sa¯gar’s version it is the guru, Vasisfi fitha, who commands him to do so. Sa¯gar had also mentioned a goda¯na as a preliminary ceremony in Ayodhya¯: it is mentioned in Kaus´alya¯’s list of preparations for the wedding referred to above (TVR 9.115). Sa¯gar does not show any goda¯na, maybe because of budget limitations or because it is not really part of popular living tradition, the cow being substituted mostly by monetary gifts and presents of sweets. Tulsı¯ follows VR in portraying the wedding as exemplary, but in addition to Vedic ceremonies we get also more folksy ones. This is, of course, a familiar aspect of the bhakti tradition, as is well exemplified by the projection of folk rites onto the Krfisfi nfi a mythology (Entwistle 1987, 46). Tulsı¯ seeks to balance the two; there is a lot of stress of everything being carried out according to both great and little tradition. “Everything was done according to Veda and popular rites”: variants of these phrases return again and again (just some examples are: kari kula rı¯ti beda bidhi ra¯u¯, RCM 1.302.1; beda bihita aru kula a¯ca¯ru¯, kı¯nha bhalı¯ bidhi saba byavaha¯ru¯, RCM 1.319.1b; kari baidika laukika saba rı¯tim ˙, 1.320.1a). Tulsı¯ lovingly describes the rituals conducted by women, such as the pu¯ja¯ of the groom (parachani) (RCM 1.318–319.2), singing of man˙gala gı¯ta at the manfi dfi apa (RCM 1.323.4), and so on22 Often he mentions both in one breath, such as “Auspiciously married women sing their songs, holy brahmans recite the Vedas” (subhaga sua¯sini ga¯vahim ˙ gı¯ta¯, karahim ˙ beda dhuni bipra punı¯ta¯; RCM 1.313.2b). We find the same concern with balancing Vedic and family rites in Sa¯gar, who features a combination of Sanskrit recitation (from Vedic texts, as well as Durga¯s´aptas´ati and so on)23 and women’s songs (man˙gala gı¯ta), together with, visually, close-ups of sacrificial activity by brahmans as well as of women’s rites. At the beginning of the wedding rites proper, for instance, Sa¯gar shows the brahmans busying themselves with preparing the site while reciting Sanskrit (TVR 10.130), and in the next shot we see Sı¯ta¯ and the other brides being adorned (s´rfinfi ga¯r) and having their hands decorated (mehndı¯) by their girlfriends. The latter part may also be interpreted as following the traditional steps of the classical marriage, as it corresponds to paridha¯pana and saman˜jana (the dressing and anointing of the bride; see Kane 1974, 532–533). It needs to be pointed out that whenever women’s songs are sung, these follow the traditional performance pattern of having a line sung by one singer and then repeated by the chorus. The songs differ from real-life wedding songs,


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however, in that they are neatly sanitized. Tulsı¯ had still made references to the practice of singing insulting songs (ga¯rı¯) by the bride’s party’s women during the jevana¯r or feast for the bara¯t (RCM 1.329.1a). He even specified that these were “personalized” (jevata dehim ˙ madhura dhuni ga¯rı¯, lai lai na¯ma purusfia aru na¯rı¯; RCM 1.329.3b). The same practice is depicted, and relished by the audience, at the Ra¯mnagar Ra¯mlı¯la¯ (Kapur 1990, 72). Similarly, when describing the happiness in Ayodhya¯ upon the return of the bara¯t, Tulsı¯da¯s mentions that the women of the city sing auspicious ga¯rı¯ (RCM 1.358.1b). Sa¯gar, however, does not feature any such songs. He may be catering to the sensitivities of “reformed” Hindu tastes. A more explicit rejection of the practice can be found in the so-called Ra¯dhes´ya¯m Ra¯ma¯yanfi a (RR 1.4.19–20). As we shall see, Sa¯gar’s portrayal of the rites conducted by women to break the ice between bride and groom also seem sanitized. Another striking general feature of the wedding rite is the prominent role that the gurus play. We have already noted that in both RCM and TVR the gurus have taken over much of the agency of the kings in the initial negotiations, and we will see that this trend continues during the ceremonies proper. At every step, they take the initiative, and the kings merely carry out their commands. The kings show great respect to their gurus. We saw that Das´aratha greeted Vis´va¯mitra respectfully before he embraced his sons. At every turn of the action there is room for a guru pu¯ja¯. Janaka, for instance, thus honors Vasisfi fitha and Vis´va¯mitra and all rfisfiis starting with Va¯madeva when they arrive at the wedding manfi dfi apa (RCM 1.320 doha¯). Das´aratha extends the greatest honor to the gurus in his own house after the return of the bara¯t (RCM 1.352). Sanction from gurus seems not to be enough for Tulsı¯, who introduces divine sanction for the wedding. In contrast to Va¯lmı¯ki, who is much more restrained,24 Tulsı¯ intersperses the events at regular intervals with vistas of the gods in heaven raining down flowers. The density grows during the actual wedding rites. The gods are described to shower flowers, for example, on Sı¯ta¯’s arrival (RCM 1.323.3a), on Sı¯ta¯’s mother’s arrival (RCM 1.324.4a), when Ra¯ma’s feet are washed (RCM 1.324 chand 1b), on the ceremony of bha¯m ˙ varı¯ (RCM 1.324 doha¯), and when the bara¯t leaves the altar (RCM 1.326 chand 4) In Tulsı¯’s version, the gods’ wives actually participate in the wedding ceremonies disguised as happily married mortal women (RCM 1.318.3a–chand), who are called to sing for Sı¯ta¯ on her wedding day (RCM 1.322.3–4). The gods follow their wives and join the bara¯t disguised as brahmans (RCM 1.321.3b–4). Neither is recognized in the general joy, except by Ra¯ma, who honors the gods with a seat in his heart (sura lakhe ra¯ma suja¯na pu¯je ma¯nasika a¯sana dae; RCM 1.321 chand c). Sa¯gar follows Tulsı¯’s lead, but he has S´iva and Brahma¯ descend before the ladies do so. Ra¯ma nods smilingly to the gods disguised as brahmans, while they pay their obeisance with folded hands. In RCM, when Sı¯ta¯ arrives, the gurus have her do a pu¯ja¯ of Gaurı¯, Ganfi apati, and the brahmans. The gods reward her by manifesting themselves to give their blessing in person (sura pragatfii pu¯ja¯ lehim ˙ dehim ˙ ası¯sa ati sukhu pa¯vahı¯m ˙ , RCM 1.323 chand). Tulsı¯ continues in this vein to illustrate the perfection of the wedding ceremonies. Ravi himself, the dynastic patron, instucts

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the ritual agents about what do do (RCM 323 chand). At the time of the libations in the fire, the god of fire becomes manifest and the Vedas themselves take the form of brahmans to give correct ritual advice (RCM 1.323 doha¯). Sa¯gar does not follow Tulsı¯ here, but later on, when the newlyweds go to pay their respects to the divinity or kuladevata¯, the accompanying song stipulates that everything was approved (siddha) by her (TVR 10.137).

Nuptial Ceremonies In VR the actual nuptial ritual is dispatched rather quickly, among rhetorical flourishes and courtesies of the groom’s and bride’s parties. We have a quick description of Das´aratha and his sons arriving in festive attire at the sacrificial enclosure or ya¯jn˜ava¯fita, where the kautukaman˙gala or ceremony of tying a thread around the wrist of the grooms takes place (VR 1.73.7–9; for references about the ceremony, see Goldman 1984, 391). Vasisfi fitha then goes to see Janaka and announces very humbly and politely that the groom’s party is ready, again using a variant of the previously mentioned politeness formula that stresses the equivalence of donor and receiver (da¯trfipratigrahı¯trfibhya¯m ˙ sarva¯rtha¯ sambhavanti hi; VR 1.73.12a). Janaka answers with much courtesy that his kingdom is theirs, so they can command when to start. His daughters too have undergone the kautukaman˙gala and are ready, standing near the altar as shining flames of fire (dı¯pta¯ vahneriva¯rcia; VR 1.73.15b). In Tulsı¯’s version, by contrast, when the auspicious moment (late afternoon or dhenudhu¯ri) has arrived, it is the bride’s party that takes the initiative. More precisely, the brahmans exhort Janaka to fetch the bara¯t from its quarters (janava¯sa). Before leaving, Das´aratha consults with his guru (RCM 1.313). More than Va¯lmı¯ki, Tulsı¯ keeps the girl’s party in the humble position here, although, as described above, he goes out of his way to describe the amazing equality of both parties later, when they have arrived at the manfi dfi apa (RCM 1.320). Sa¯gar does not follow either version here. At the beginning of the wedding proper, the groom’s party is shown to arrive and enter the palace; it is not clear on whose initiative this occurs. Whereas in VR the brides are already present when the grooms arrive, in RCM they are summoned (again on the gurus’ initiative: Vasisfi fitha asks S´ata¯nanda to do so, and Sı¯ta¯’s mother gets the hint) after all the others are seated (RCM 1.322). Here, Sa¯gar follows RCM quite closely (TVR 10.132). A more important contrast is that although Va¯lmı¯ki devotes only a few descriptive s´lokas to the matter, Tulsı¯ and Sa¯gar have turned the event into an occasion of mega-dars´ana. Tulsı¯ takes his audience along to the wedding in the company of none other than the gods themselves, providing a doubly divine dars´ana: of God through the eyes of the gods. Tulsı¯ gives a full report on the reaction of the gods upon beholding the wedding (RCM 1.313 doha¯–317.4). Interestingly, they are portrayed as country bumpkins arriving in the big city from their own regions or lokas. Brahma¯ himself does not recognize his creation (RCM 1.314.4b). S´iva is described as something of a rural tour guide, who


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exhorts his ox to move on, after he has explained to his bewildered “co-villagers” that this society wedding is a major cosmic event (RCM 1.314 doha¯–315.2a).25 In tune with the bhakti agenda, S´iva’s speech is really a hymn glorifying Ra¯ma. Sa¯gar’s gods, too, to some extent fit the second-rate participant status that Tulsı¯’s gods have. This is clear from their speech, which is remarkably different from the atis´uddha Hindı¯ the noble human characters speak. When the gods perceive that preparations for the wedding are taking place, Brahma¯ mentions what is going on, and S´iva says rather rustically “I’ve been keen on seeing it since ages. So, goddess, let’s go?” (ham to kab se uta¯vale ho rahe haim ˙ , kyom ˙ devı¯, calem ˙ ? not transcribed in TVR). The contrast is all the more remarkable because this scene is preceded by the lofty Sanskrit recitation of the Yajurveda by Janaka’s brahmans. In Tulsı¯’s version, when the gods arrive at the scene they are thrilled at having a dars´ana of Das´aratha and his party, moved with love when they see the young couples, and they get tears in their eyes when beholding Ra¯ma as groom (RCM 1.315.2b–doha¯). There follows a full description of Ra¯ma mounted on his horse, which includes a lyrical interlude (chand, RCM 1.316). The gods are all eyes, and Tulsı¯ exploits this masterfully by having them be thankful for their multiple eyes that afford them a better dars´ana of Ra¯ma (RCM 1.317.1– 3a). Even Indra praises himself lucky for Gautama’s curse (RCM 1.317.3b), which had left him with “thousand” eyes. More than that, he becomes the envy of all others (RCM 1.317.4a). This is ironical since, of course, the curse was the result of his undharmic seduction of Ahalya¯, who had only just before been set free from her curse by Ra¯ma. In a way, Ra¯ma here does the same for Indra by turning the curse into a blessing. Surprisingly, Sa¯gar does not even show Ra¯ma on a horse: the groom’s party is shown entering the palace on foot, presumably just after having dismounted. Sa¯gar again leaves out the hymns of praise to Ra¯ma. In VR, after the grooms arrive, the sacrificial site is prepared under the direction of Vasisfi fitha (VR 1.73.20–24; this passage is not in the critical edition). The first view we have of the wedding altar in Sa¯gar’s TVR is also one where brahmans are preparing the sacrificial site while reciting Sanskrit mantras. In contrast to this Vedic ritual atmosphere, Tulsı¯ puts more stress on loving devotion. We have already mentioned the welcome ceremony (parachani) by the women (RCM 1.318–319.1), which is occasion for much display of emotion. Sa¯gar also shows the welcome ceremony. He exploits the cinematic possibilities by showing close-ups of the women with tears in their eyes, and the grooms in their serious anticipation of what is to come. However, it is not only the women who display bhakti in Tulsı¯’s version. Loving devotion prevails also when Janaka with his own hands prepares seats for his guests on the manfi dfi apa. He performs pu¯ja¯ of the gurus of the groom’s party (RCM 1.320 chand–321.1), and welcomes everyone humbly. In Sa¯gar’s version, while Janaka’s welcome is enacted, Sanskrit recitation is interspersed with a “vernacular” song (lagana manfi dfi apa mem ˙ padha¯ro, kum ˙ var jı¯; TVR 10.131– 132). Further, the attempt to reconcile bhakti and marya¯da¯ is well exemplified by the two first lines of the vernacular singers: the men sing: “Follow the custom of receiving guests” (mela mila¯pa kı¯ rı¯ti nibha¯o; TVR 10.131), which is

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repeated by the women, who then add: “Let the mutual love of relatives grow (sajana paraspara prı¯ta barfiha¯o; TVR 10.132). Sa¯gar thus works on keeping in Tulsı¯’s loving aspect, while making clear that everything is carried out according to tradition. The climax of the wedding is quickly reached and is very short and simple in VR. Sı¯ta¯ was already standing near the altar when Ra¯ma arrived, and Va¯lmı¯ki simply says that Janaka placed Sı¯ta¯ opposite Ra¯ma and gave her away with the words: “This, my daughter Sı¯ta¯, is your partner in dharma. Accept her, bless you. Take her hand in yours. She has great fortune, is devoted to her husband, and will always follow you like a shadow” (iyam ˙ sı¯ta¯ mama suta¯ sahadharmacarı¯ tava; pratı¯ccha caina¯m ˙ bhadram ˙ te pa¯nfi im ˙ grfihı¯sfiva pa¯nfi ina¯, pativrata¯ maha¯bha¯ga¯ cha¯yeva¯nugata¯ sada¯; VR 1.73.26b–27b). The same formula is repeated for the other couples. The grooms then take the hands of the brides, and circumambulate with them the fire, the altar, and Janaka and the sages. This is the only occasion on which Va¯lmı¯ki seems eager to hold the action for a moment of intensification of emotion: the gods rain down flowers, heavenly nymphs dance, and so on (VR 1.73.37–39). By contrast, Tulsı¯ and Sa¯gar have a much more elaborate lead-up to the final event, turning each aspect of the ritual into a major occasion for dars´ana. In RCM, this is underscored by a plethora of lyrical meters (chand), one of which is quoted in TVR (10.132).26 First we get a glimpse of Sı¯ta¯’s procession approaching the manfi dfi apa, and of the rites she carries out upon arriving (RCM 1.322–323). Tulsı¯ describes how Sı¯ta¯ and Ra¯ma behold one another (siya ra¯ma avalokani parasapara premu ka¯hum ˙ na lakhi parai; RCM 1.323 chand 2c). This may be seen as a reference to the rite parasparasamı¯ksfianfi a (Kane 1974, 533). Significantly, Sa¯gar does not quote this verse, and with the exception of one glance that Sı¯ta¯ seems to cast on her groom-to-be upon arrival, the two do not behold one another at any point during the whole ceremony. There are, though, many close-ups, suggesting that everyone else is beholding the couple with much tender love. After this, in RCM, the arrival of Sı¯ta¯’s mother in the manfi dfi apa is described (RCM 1.324). This is not shown by Sa¯gar. Tulsı¯ then lovingly describes how Sı¯ta¯’s parents wash the feet of the groom (RCM 1.324.4b chand 2), again using the occasion to turn this into a hymn of praise to Ra¯ma. Sa¯gar also dwells lovingly and extraordinarily long on the feet-washing episode.27 It is actually Janaka who washes the groom’s feet, while Sunayana¯ pours the water. Again, Sa¯gar’s dars´ana is underlined with parts from Tulsı¯’s chands. Sa¯gar’s camera underscores Tulsı¯’s words. While reciting that Janaka washes those lotus feet, the pollen of “which sages and yogı¯s served, their minds turning into bees, to attain the salvation they desired” (kari madhupa mana muni jogijana je sei abhimata gati lahaim ˙ ; TVR 10.133), the camera registers the beatifically smiling faces of the gurus of Ayodhya¯. Then comes the climax, the actual nuptial rituals. The ceremonies of “taking the hand” (pa¯nigahanu), “walking around the fire” (bha¯m ˙ varı¯), and “filling the parting of the hair” (sem ˙ dura) are described in Tulsı¯ as taking place among general rejoicing (RCM 1.324 chand 3–325.5). Sa¯gar shows the ceremonies, with


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much recitation from Tulsı¯, stressing again that the ceremony is all in accordance with both the Veda and local practice (RCM 1.324 chand 3d). Sa¯gar also singles out for recitation Tulsı¯’s verses that make comparisons with the weddings of the goddesses Pa¯rvatı¯ and S´rı¯ (RCM 1.324 chand 4a–b). Interestingly, while Sı¯ta¯’s hands are daubed with paste by her mother, the Sanskrit recitation is in praise of Na¯ra¯yanfi a from the Durga¯saptas´atı¯ (TVR 10.134), as if to acknowledge Sı¯ta¯’s divinity. The pa¯nfi igraha ceremony is again one of the rare occasions on which Sa¯gar quotes directly from Va¯lmı¯ki. He has his Janaka solemnly and theatrically recite the Sanskrit s´lokas to the effect that Ra¯ma is to take Sı¯ta¯’s hand, and thereby accept her as his sahadharmacarı¯, and that she is a very fortunate pativrata¯ (wife devoted to her husband) and will follow him like a shadow. By choosing to quote Va¯lmı¯ki, Sa¯gar is extra conservative. He chose not to use the classical formula that reportedly is used even today in wedding ceremonies. That formula is an interrogation of the groom by the father of the bride, urging him not to be false to the bride in dharma, artha, and ka¯ma (dharme ca¯rthe ca ka¯me ca na¯ticaritavya, Kane 1974, 519 n. 1209), and the groom has to respond that he will not (Kane 1974, 533). More Sanskrit is to come with recitation from the Yajurveda during the tying of the knot, from Visfinfi u Sahasrana¯ma Stotra while Sı¯ta¯ adorns Ra¯ma with the ma¯la¯, and recites Durga¯saptas´atı¯ when he garlands her. Sa¯gar’s intention is to have his audience realize that this is a divine affair. Interestingly, the exchange of the ma¯la¯s is not mentioned by Tulsı¯, and seems, surprisingly, not to be part of the classical wedding ceremony descriptions (not in Kane 1974, 533–534). The scene is also interspersed with shots of brahmans reciting, performing sacrifices in the fire, and blessing the couple. On the other hand, the actual agniparinfi ayana or phera¯ (circling of the fire) and ma¯m ˙ g bharna¯ (adorning of the parting of the woman’s hair) is accompanied by a folk song that describes the general joy, and is performed by young women (siya¯ raghuvara jı¯ ke sam ˙ ga parana la¯gı¯m ˙ ; TVR 10.135). At the appropriate moments, there are shots of all happy parties involved, including the gods S´iva and Brahma¯ disguised as brahmans. Incorporated in the song are again quotes from RCM. Finally, Tulsı¯ says that on Vasisfifitha’s bidding, the newlyweds sit next to one another, which provides another wonderful occasion for dars´ana, this time by Das´aratha, who rejoices at the sight (RCM 1.325 chand 1). Sa¯gar shows Sı¯ta¯ and Ra¯ma paying obeisance to the gurus and their parents before sitting down again to give dars´ana. The wedding of the other three couples is much less elaborately described, but essentially similar. It is described lyrically in chands by Tulsı¯. Sa¯gar quotes a verse (in caupa¯¯ı, which sounds like RCM, but is not in the Gı¯ta¯ Press edition) that stipulates that it is on Vasisfi fitha’s command that these couples are married. Whereas Va¯lmı¯ki and Sa¯gar give the actual wedding formulae, Tulsı¯ stresses more the feelings of the fathers, in particular Das´aratha (RCM 1.325 doha¯), but also Janaka (RCM 1.326). The latter humbly addresses Das´aratha and, concerned for the welfare of his daughters in the new house, asks for his patience: “Make these girls your servants, and cherish them with ever-new

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forgiveness” (e da¯rika¯ parica¯rika¯ kari pa¯libı¯m ˙ karuna¯ naı¯; RCM 1.326 chand 3a). He also asks for forgiveness for his own obstinacy in establishing the match (apara¯dhu chamibo boli patfihae bahuta haum ˙ dfi¯ıtyo kaı¯; RCM 1.326 chand 2b). Das´aratha returns the politenesses. Sa¯gar follows suit (TVR 10.136), and as we shall see, he has Janaka apologize for possible mistakes, and takes this paternal concern up again later, in the leave-taking rituals (see 2.3.3). The scene ends with an embrace of the in-laws.

Retreat for the Night At the end of the ceremonies, Va¯lmı¯ki simply says that the newly wedded couples return to the guest quarters (VR 1.73.40). In Tulsı¯’s version, the festivities are not quite finished. There is first a visit to the site of the divinity presiding over the wedding (kohabara). Sa¯gar shows the procession, while a rather pedestrian folk song is heard in the background, which ends by quoting one doha¯ from RCM (1.327 doha¯). He shows the couples striding solemnly, restrainedly smiling but not looking at each other. He misses a chance to quote Tulsı¯’s beautiful description of Sı¯ta¯’s feelings: she acts shy, but feels eager: “Looking at Ra¯ma again and again, Sı¯ta¯ withdraws, but her heart does not withdraw. Her eyes, thirsty for love, supersede the beauty of pretty fishes” (puni puni ra¯mahi citava siya sakucati manu sakucai na, harata manohara mı¯na chabi prema pia¯se naina; RCM 1.326 doha¯). Sa¯gar’s folk song states that the kuladevı¯ confirmed all ritual activity that had been going on (sa¯re ka¯raja siddha bhae; TVR 10.137), and we have a shot of all bowing to her image. Tulsı¯ does not describe the deity. Instead, he gives a full description of Ra¯ma, from top to toe (nakha-s´ikha; RCM 1.327.1–chand 1a). This might be interpreted as a view from Sı¯ta¯’s shy perspective, but it changes into a public view, with a description of the joy of all witnesses at the event. Tulsı¯ has again managed to get maximal benefit from the opportunity to sing a hymn of praise to Ra¯ma and to provide a reverential dars´ana for the devotee. Upon arrival in the bridal apartment (kohabara), according to Tulsı¯, folk rituals or laukika rı¯ti are carried out (RCM 1.327 chand 2b–4). This is probably a reference to pranks played by the bride’s relatives, including games conducted by women that function as icebreakers between bride and groom. Sa¯gar does not break the solemn atmosphere at this point, and he treats these icebreakers later, so I will take them up there. Instead, Sa¯gar skips the whole karfiava¯k and ends the folk song with the last doha¯ from RCM on the topic (1.327 doha¯), which states that the couples went to Das´aratha. Sa¯gar shows each couple respectfully greeting the father-in-law and receiving his blessings. At this point, Sa¯gar ends the wedding ceremony proper, leaving the audience with a taste of grand style. In Tulsı¯’s version, the folk rites are followed by the big feast (jevana¯ra) to which Janaka invites the bara¯t. Janaka again humbly washes the feet of the main guests, and treats them to a gourmet meal served swiftly on exquisite dishes and described in much culinary detail (RCM 1.328–329). The meal is topped off with pa¯n. While they have dinner, the guests


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are entertained on the traditional “insult songs” (ga¯ri, RCM 1.329.1a and 3b– 4a), which they relish.28 Tulsı¯ ends the wedding day proper with a short description of the trip back to the guest quarters, and the joy in the city on the occasion (RCM 1.330.1–2a). None of this is shown in Sa¯gar’s TVR.

Farewell Rituals Paternal Gifts and Reluctance to Let the Bride Go In Va¯lmı¯ki, the leave-taking is described in just eight s´lokas. First, Vis´va¯mitra leaves, an event that is not taken up by Tulsı¯ nor Sa¯gar at this point (Sa¯gar spends more time on it in episode 12). Then, Das´aratha asks permission to leave, and Janaka sends him with a huge gift for his daughters (kanya¯dhana), which is described in detail. Tulsı¯ too describes the gifts of Janaka in detail (RCM 1.326.1b–3), but he speaks of a dowry (da¯ija; RCM 1.326.1b and 1.333 doha¯) instead of kanya¯dhana. The issue comes up twice, once just after the wedding ceremony proper and and again at the time of leaving. The first time, Das´aratha is said to accept everything but promptly divides it among the beggars (RCM 1.326.4). Significantly, Sa¯gar dodges the dowry issue. The only reference is in passing. When Sunayana¯ offers her final advice to her daughters, she refers obliquely to a dowry. She says that although a father may give a lot of material wealth, which engenders surprise in the three worlds (this may be a reference to RCM 1.333 doha¯), all a mother has to offer is advice on how a woman should behave (Pita¯ ne tumhem ˙ itna¯ diya¯ hai ki tı¯nom ˙ lok mem ˙ uskı¯ s´obha¯ ho rahı¯ hai, par maim ˙ to tumhem ˙ na¯rı¯-dharm ka¯ jn˜a¯n hı¯ de saktı¯ hum ˙ , jo jı¯van ke har morfi par tumhem ˙ karttavya aur dharm ka¯ ra¯sta¯ dikha¯ega¯; TVR 11.142). It seems to me that Sa¯gar has dealt masterfully, or rather not dealt, with the issue of dowry. Sunayana¯’s passing remark acknowledges that there must have been a big dowry, without saying so explicitly or calling it by name. By placing it in the context of the leave-taking ceremonies (vida¯), it is conflated with the more acceptable practice of sending away visitors with a gift. At the same time, Sa¯gar has downplayed the importance of the material dowry, privileging instead the mother’s gift of “spiritual” advice. Given all the controversy regarding dowry, its condemnation in the media (and the constitution), yet its abiding—even expanding—prevalence in practice, it is not surprising that Sa¯gar avoids addressing the issue. It is surprising rather that he manages to let this much slip by without condemning the practice on an official government channel of communication. Tulsı¯’s Janaka had been reluctant to let the groom’s party leave. Affectionately, he made Das´aratha stay (dina utfihi bida¯ avadhapati ma¯ga¯, ra¯khahi janaku sahita anura¯ga¯; RCM 1.333.1b). It seems that love for the in-laws is at the root of this reluctance to send the groom’s party away. This impression is reinforced during the actual leave-taking, where the majority of the verses are devoted to Janaka’s leave-taking of Ra¯ma and his brothers (RCM 1.341.1b–342), and Vis´va¯mitra (RCM 1.3431–3). In his eagerness to make the groom’s party stay just

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a bit longer, Tulsı¯’s king is acting by popular consent (nita nava nagara anam ˙ da ucha¯hu¯, dasaratha gavanu soha¯i na ka¯hu¯; RCM 1.333.2b). It is not until Vis´va¯mitra and S´ata¯nanda intercede that the bara¯t finally gets the go-ahead. The royal women share the king’s feelings and are unhappy when they are informed that the bara¯t is about to leave. They entrust the girls to their husbands, taking the opportunity to praise Ra¯ma (with a chand, RCM 1.336.4–337.1). Sa¯gar follows Tulsı¯’s main lead, and elaborates. His Janaka pleads very politely with Das´aratha that the bara¯t should stay on for some time. Sa¯gar’s Janaka does not act out of love for the groom’s party but rather for his beloved daughter, and he says as much. The groom’s father understands the bride’s father’s plight and promises to wait till Janaka tells him to go (TVR 10.138– 139),29 and the two kings embrace. Sa¯gar thus dwells on the chivalries of the two parties and takes up again the issue of the exemplary gallantry of the groom’s party (varapaksfia) toward the bride’s party (kanya¯paksfia). To drive his point home, he adds a new scene. His camera shifts to the queens in Ayodhya¯ getting impatient when the bara¯t does not return (beginning of the next episode, TVR 11.140). While Kaus´alya¯ is the voice of reason and understanding, the impatient Kaikeyı¯ argues that after all the bride’s party should respect the wishes of the groom’s party (ham varpaksfi va¯le haim ˙ , ham jaisa¯ ca¯hem ˙ ge kanya¯paksfi va¯lom ˙ ko vaisa¯ hı¯ karna¯ parfiega¯; TVR 11.140), and she sends a message to that effect to Das´aratha. The latter reacts very negatively to such reasoning, however, and refuses to force the bride’s party to do anything against their wishes. Nevertheless, it is clear that Das´aratha must return home at some point. The scene ends with a realpolitik argument by his counselor that carries more weight: a king should not stay away from his responsibilities too long. On the other side, Janaka is finally convinced to let the bara¯t go by Vis´va¯mitra and S´ata¯nanda, just as in RCM. But in Sa¯gar’s version, we get the full argumentation. Vis´va¯mitra points out that Janaka is setting a bad example by giving in to his emotions so much, and should rather pull himself together and help protect the ways of proper conduct (nı¯ti kı¯ raksfia¯; TVR 11.142). S´ata¯nanda tells Janaka that once the girl is given away, she belongs to someone else (para¯¯ı). This finally prompts Janaka into action. Interestingly, Sa¯gar follows Tulsı¯ in giving airtime to the popular view of the public of Mithila¯. Tulsı¯’s public, like its king, relished the presence of the bara¯t. Sa¯gar’s focus is different. He has some “people” sympathize with Janaka’s state of mind on the general human principle that it is difficult to send one’s daughter away to her in-laws. The dolı¯-makers, while preparing the palanquin in which the brides are to be taken away, quite poignantly phrase the dilemma a girl’s parents face: “Any father and mother wish not to send her, and yet, they cannot keep her” (kauno ba¯p-mahta¯rı¯ ka¯ na bheje ko jı¯ karat hai aur na rakh sakat haim ˙ ; TVR 11.141). Following the tradition of the classical drama (and the Hindi film), the “people” speak a rustic language, not modern standard Hindi, but this does not impede at least one of them from getting quite philosophical: “A daughter is the true manifestation of what they call illusion” (vah jise ma¯ya¯ kahte haim ˙ na, uska¯ asalı¯ ru¯p hı¯ bitfiiya¯ hai; TVR 11.141). They add that even a king like Janaka will forget all his asceticism, which may


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be an echo of RCM (1.338.3a: sı¯ya biloki dhı¯rata¯ bha¯gı¯, rahe kaha¯vata parama bira¯gı¯). Although the people’s words capture well the king’s emotional state and, for that matter, those of every parent, they constitute a different type of popular endorsem*nt of the king’s actions from that in RCM.

Touching Maternal Farewell When describing the farewell in the women’s quarters, Tulsı¯ takes the opportunity to exploit fully the emotional depths of the sentiment of tragedy or karunfi a¯ rasa, as he himself puts it: “All men and women, the queens and the girl friends, were overwhelmed with love. They seemed to have turned the city of Videha into a dwelling for pathos and farewell” (premabibasa nara na¯ri saba sakhinha sahita raniva¯su, ma¯nahum ˙ kı¯nha bidehapura karuna¯m ˙ biraham ˙ niva¯su; RCM 1.337 doha¯). Tulsı¯ touchingly describes the goodbyes of the women: “Again and again, they embraced Sı¯ta¯, blessed her and gave her advice” (puni puni sı¯ya goda kari lehı¯m ˙ , dei ası¯sa sikha¯vanu dehı¯m ˙ RCM 1.334.2a). The parting words of the queen mothers are first of all a blessing: “May you always remain your husband’s darling, we bless you to live a long, happily married life” (hoehu sam ˙ tata piyahi pia¯rı¯, ciru ahiba¯ta ası¯sa hama¯rı¯; RCM 1.334.2b). The advice proper is very short: “You should look after the needs of your mother- and father-in-law, and the guru. You should carry out all commands, but be sure to check your husband’s facial expression” (sa¯su sasura gura seva¯ karehu¯, pati rukha lakhi a¯yasu anusarehu; RCM 1.334.3a). Tulsı¯ further describes the goodbye of the girlfriends: “Overwhelmed with extreme love, the clever girlfriends whisper instruction on women’s matters (ati saneha basa sakhı¯m ˙ saya¯nı¯, na¯ri dharama sikhavahim ˙ mrfidu ba¯nı¯; RCM 1.344.3b). The next verse again returns to the goodbye of the mothers, who cannot get enough of embracing the girls. Interestingly, they curse the fate of women: “They said: ‘why did the creator create women?’ ” (kahahim ˙ viram ˙ ci racı¯m ˙ kata na¯rı¯m ˙ ; RCM 1.344.4b). Following the ka¯vya tradition, even the birds raised by Sı¯ta¯ share in the general outburst of tears: “The parrot and mynah that Sı¯ta¯ had helped hatch, kept in a golden cage, and taught [to speak]; desperately cried out: ‘Where’s Sı¯ta¯.’ When they heard this, no one could keep cool” (suka sa¯rika¯ ja¯nakı¯ jya¯e, kanaka pim ˙ jaranhi ra¯khi parfiha¯e; bya¯kula kahahim ˙ kaha¯m ˙ baidehı¯, suni dhı¯raju pariharai na kehı¯; RCM 338.1). Sa¯gar too exploits the dramatic possibilities of the scene and its karunfi rasa. Already in the previous episode, there was an innovation to allow for that effect. Sunayana¯ confided in the wife of the royal guru about her sadness at losing a daughter (TVR 10.137–138). She does not quite curse the fate of women, but her words are bitter nevertheless: “It seems like someone is getting away with wounding someone, and then plundering their all” (jaise kisı¯ ko gha¯yal karke koı¯ sab kuch lu¯fit karke ja¯ raha¯ hai; TVR 10.137). She despairs at the charade a mother has to go through in blessing the groom, the very one who is taking away her dearest (ma¯m ˙ ke hrfiday kı¯ kaisı¯ vidfi ambana¯ hai, jo uska¯ sab kuch chı¯n kar le ja¯ raha¯ hai, use a¯s´¯ırva¯d de rahı¯ hai; TVR 10.137). Sa¯gar, however, feels compelled to temper these poignant feelings with the

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voice of reason, here in the person of the guru’s wife. First, the guru’s wife says that this is just the way of the world (sam ˙ sa¯r kı¯ yahı¯ rı¯ti hai; TVR 10.137). Sunayana¯ protests: “What a way is that? That a mother and father have to bring up a daughter lovingly for so many years, and then send her off to a strange house, by their own doing?” (kaisı¯ hai yah rı¯ti ki ma¯ta¯-pita¯ itne baras pa¯l-pos kar betfi¯ı ko barfia¯ karte haim ˙ aur phir ek din use apne ha¯thom ˙ para¯e ghar bhej dete haim ˙ ? TVR 10.137–138). The guru’s wife then reminds Sunayana¯ that things won’t be that bad, and that Sı¯ta¯, after all, will have her husband to confide in, just as Sunayana¯ herself has now Janaka. Still, Sunayana¯ finds it hard for a mother to let go of her daughter: “A mother’s heart does not understand the language of reason, it knows only the delusion of possessing love” (ma¯ ka¯ hrfiday jn˜a¯n kı¯ bha¯fisa¯ nahı¯m ˙ samajhta¯, keval mamata¯ ka¯ moh ja¯nta¯ hai; TVR 10.138). The guru’s wife, then, points out that such concern with matters of the world is not fitting for a queen, especially one of the king of Videha. Here she is punning on the literal meaning of Videha, “detached from the body.”30 Sunayana¯ confesses that the king of Videha himself is caught in this web of affection; he too feels mamata¯ that is so strong, that he cannot let go of his daughter. To be sure, Sunayana¯ gets the last word, but still, in comparison with Tulsı¯’s version, the atmosphere of karunfi a¯ is tempered by words of wisdom. Sa¯gar seems eager to warn his public against the excesses of emotion. Notwithstanding all Sunayana¯’s pathos in the scene with the guru’s wife, her farewell of the young brides is remarkably restrained compared to Tulsı¯’s version. Whereas Tulsı¯’s queen mothers would embrace the girls over and over again, blessing them, and sending them off with just one line of instruction, Sa¯gar’s Sunayana¯ gives a long Sanskritic sermon to instruct the girls, while she acts sternly like a schoolteacher and the young brides listen deferentially with bowed heads. She has prepared her speech well, and it bears a close look at what married women are supposed to do. First, a woman’s husband is her god, equal to no other. A woman does not need to worship (pu¯ja¯) anyone but him. A woman’s first duty is to give up her own self-interest (sva¯rth) and to be concerned only with what fosters her husband’s welfare (kalya¯nfi ). That is the only self-denial (tapasya¯) required of a woman. A woman who is fully, in thoughts, words, and deeds, devoted to her husband (pativrata¯) does not need anyone else’s blessing, for even God himself is compelled to carry out her wishes (uskı¯ a¯jn˜a¯ ke adhı¯n). A woman should be her husband’s moral partner (sahadharminı¯) in carrying out his duty. Her highest duty (uttama dharma) is to honor her husband’s parents. She should only speak after having checked her husband’s facial reactions, because even if her words would be true, she may be speaking at the wrong moment, with dire results. Finally, she should consider her in-laws’ house (sasura¯l) to be her home, she should never make her own paternal home (maika¯) out to be better, and she should even try to forget it altogether (TVR 11.142–143). This is a remarkably conservative view of women’s duty for a popular series on contemporary TV. One can hardly imagine a more explicitly patriarchal statement, and that in the mouth of a woman, the bride’s mother. It is apparent that Sa¯gar is keen to send an explicitly conservative message to mothers and


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young brides, especially if one considers that at this point there is nothing equivalent in the other texts discussed here. This stern speech is strikingly different from Tulsı¯’s emotional farewells, and Va¯lmı¯ki did not mention anything of the kind. Still, Sa¯gar can claim sanction from the Ma¯nas, but from a later passage in that text, after the exile, where Sı¯ta¯ meets the venerable female ascetic Anasu¯ya¯. Much of Sa¯gar’s sermon by Sunayana¯ is reminiscent of Tulsı¯’s words of Anusu¯ya¯ to Sı¯ta¯ (RCM 3.5).31 To further beef up the Ma¯nas credentials of the TV sermon, Sa¯gar throws in a quote from another later passage, namely, the scene where Ra¯ma tries to dissuade Sı¯ta¯ from following him into exile, and says her duty is to serve her mother- and father-in-law (RCM 2.61.3a, quoted in TVR 11.143). In short, our comparison shows an important fact. Sunayana¯’s conservative sermon in Sa¯gar’s TV version is deliberately constructed to look as if it was lifted straight out of the medieval text. Actually, it is based on a single line in Tulsı¯’s corresponding version, which is expanded to the effect that it has become an innovation. Paradoxically, the most modern version here is the most conservative one.

Concerned Paternal Farewell If women are urged to subordinate themselves completely to husband and inlaws, Sa¯gar does not forget to address the other side of the issue, and to stress that in-laws should treat young brides well, even with respect. That is the topic of the next scene, which focusses on Janaka’s farewell. Janaka pleads with Das´aratha to be patient with the girls, who are after all very young and will need to adjust to the ways of their new environment. Sa¯gar may well be following Tulsı¯’s lead here again, but Tulsı¯ had this scene at the end of the nuptial ceremonies proper. Janaka asks Das´aratha to treat the new brides generously, and to give these “servants” a place “at his feet” (a¯pke caranfi om ˙ mem ˙ stha¯n dı¯jiega¯ TVR 11.144). Das´aratha counters that his new daughters-in-law are goddesses of good luck (ghar kı¯ laksfimı¯), and that as such their place is rather at the head (laksfimı¯ ka¯ stha¯n caranfi om ˙ mem ˙ nahı¯m ˙ , sir-ma¯the par hı¯ hota¯ hai; TVR 11.114); he promises to treat them as the future queens of Ayodhya¯. Janaka fawns over this great generosity of the groom’s father. As earlier, the stress here is on the graciousness of the groom’s party and its lack of display of superiority. That was already apparent at the beginning of the scene, when Janaka wanted to touch Das´aratha’s feet as a sign of subservience but the latter chided him gently about it. Notwithstanding the plea for treating young brides well, the scene ends again on a note of female subjugation. Tulsı¯’s Janaka had simply “instructed his daughter manifold, taught her about women’s duty and family ways” (bahubidhi bhu¯pa suta¯ samujha¯¯ım ˙ , na¯ridharmu kuları¯ti sikha¯¯ım ˙ ; RCM 1.339.1a). Sa¯gar’s Janaka’s paternal farewell to Sı¯ta¯ is much shorter than Sunayana¯’s but highlights again the ultimate subordination to a patriarchal system: the bride’s conduct is never to bring down the father’s or in-laws’ good name (tumha¯re kisı¯ bhı¯ a¯caranfi se tumha¯re pita¯ kı¯ la¯j aur sasura¯l kı¯ kı¯rti ko dhakka¯ na lage; TVR 11.144). Though Janaka showed concern for his daughters’ welfare, the fear of

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dishonor due to female sexuality surfaces in these last moments of farewell. After her father’s words, a close-up of Sı¯ta¯’s face suggests to the audience all that is to come, and how indeed Sı¯ta¯ will be accused of breaking these rules. Finally, Sa¯gar returns to the sentiment of karunfi a¯; a proverb is quoted that sets the tone, and follows a wedding song of the type ba¯bul. In this song, finally, we find an echo of Tulsı¯’s queens’ poignant lament of women’s plight (kahahim ˙ viram ˙ ci racı¯m ˙ kata na¯rı¯m ˙ ; RCM 1.344.4b): “Ruthless creator, explain just this: why did you create daughters?” (nitfihura vidha¯ta¯ itna¯ bata¯ de ka¯he ko bitfiiya¯ kı¯ ja¯ta bana¯¯ı; TVR 11.145). Paradoxically, by narrowing the lament down to the fate of daughters, rather than women in general, the bitter statement in the song is actually opened up to incorporate not only the perspective of women but also that of the father, as is of course traditional in the north Indian wedding songs. This is reinforced by the camera showing at this moment Janaka addressing Das´aratha, the latter empathizing with Janaka’s plight, and the two embracing. Although the voices that sing are female, the song is not the sole domain of the women. During this song, the camera registers the pathos on the face of all participants, in particular a dignified type of sadness of Janaka, who alone follows the palanquins just a few steps farther and then returns despondently, to retreat in the inner quarters of the palace, followed by Sunayana¯. Meanwhile a verse is quoted that voices the despondence of all participants but stresses Janaka’s sadness, how all his happinesses now belong to another (TVR 11.145– 146). Tulsı¯’s Janaka too had followed the bara¯t back for a while. Tulsı¯ too had highlighted the exemplary samdhı¯ relations and extreme courtesy of both parties. His Das´aratha had to give permission for Janaka to go back repeatedly, before the latter took him up on it. Even then he did not leave until after elaborate farewells to each of the members of the bara¯t. When Janaka said goodbye to Ra¯ma, Tulsı¯ turned the farewell into a hymn of praise to Ra¯ma (RCM 1.340.4b–342.3a). This was all in the spirit of bhakti. The close comparison of the different versions of the same episodes in TVR and RCM bring out differences that are significant. Often, it is taken for granted that the TVR is a bhakti text, just like RCM, the main difference being that it is electronically mediated. I do not seek to downplay the differences in the media, and it is undeniable that Sa¯gar has exploited the medium of TV very well for the sake of providing maximum dars´ana. However, our comparison shows that he also left out crucial bhakti elements in favor of moral sermons that seek to reinforce unapologetically a patriarchal normativity, more than even his ancient and medieval sources.

Arrival in Ayodhya¯ Auspiciousness and Women’s Rites Finally, after all the courtesies are played out, the bara¯t can leave for Ayodhya¯. Tulsı¯ describes the elaborate gift giving by Das´aratha, and continues on an auspicious note by describing the good omens that accompanied the bara¯t’s


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departure (RCM 1.339.4). This is an interesting contrast with Va¯lmı¯ki, where inauspicious omens are observed as the procession leaves. The narrative rationale here is different, though. Va¯lmı¯ki’s omens announce the arrival of Bha¯rgava Ra¯ma, but Tulsı¯ had already dealt with the confrontation with Bha¯rgava Ra¯ma, immediately after the svayam ˙ vara. Sa¯gar too had dealt with it before, and he entirely skips the good omens. Sa¯gar, Tulsı¯, and Va¯lmı¯ki catch up again when they describe the auspicious welcome Ayodhya¯ is preparing for the newly wedded couples (VR 1.77.6–9, RCM 1.344–345, TVR 11.146). Tulsı¯ compulsively adds more gift giving to brahmans (RCM 1.345 doha¯). Va¯lmı¯ki simply mentions that the queens carry out the ritual reception of the new daughters-in-law (vadhu¯s) (VR 1.77.10–13). Tulsı¯ elaborates, weaving in as much gift giving, devotion, and love as will fit in verse. He stresses the jubilant joy of the queens who are anticipating Ra¯ma’s dars´ana (RCM 1.346), and that of the citizens of Ayodhya¯ when enjoying dars´ana of Ra¯ma (RCM 1.347–348). The climax in RCM is the queens’ parachani or auspicious welcome ceremony (RCM 1.349). Sa¯gar has concentrated on this scene, quoting two doha¯s from RCM, and suggesting the happiness of everyone in the city in the accompanying song Ayodhya¯ nagarı¯ dhanya bhaı¯ (TVR 11.146). Tulsı¯ stresses again that the rites follow both great and little tradition (nigama nı¯ti kula rı¯ti; RCM 1.349 doha¯), though he clearly seems to relish the women’s rites. The queens then wash the feet of brides and grooms (tinha para kum ˙ vari kum ˙ vara baitfiha¯re, sa¯dara pa¯ya punı¯ta pakha¯re; RCM 1.350.1b) and continue pu¯ja¯ in great joy for the rest of the karfia¯vak. Sa¯gar quotes two doha¯s from RCM, including the one that stresses the ultraorthodoxy of the rites. Sa¯gar does not show any foot washing here, but he takes up the hint of Va¯lmı¯ki, who had said the brides worshiped in local temples. In TVR, they are shown to join in a pu¯ja¯ of Ayodhya¯’s royal family’s kuladevata¯, the sun god. Sa¯gar throws in some more Sanskrit mantras recited by Vasisfifitha, who blesses all present. Tulsı¯ then briefly mentions that the royal women engage the newlyweds in more mundane folk praxes, probably a reference to games designed to break the ice between bride and groom and to determine who will be the dominant one in the relationship (this is usually called jua¯ khel). He reports that all the young people act shyly, but that Ra¯ma smiled secretly (loka rı¯ti jananı¯m ˙ karahim ˙ bara dulahini sakuca¯him ˙ , modu binodu biloki barfia ra¯mu manahim ˙ musuka¯him ˙; RCM 1.350 doha¯ 2). Only after these rites does Tulsı¯ mention worship of the gods and ancestors, which is instantly rewarded (RCM 1.351.1–2a).

Icebreakers and In-Laws’ Care of Bahu¯s Sa¯gar, on the other hand, concentrates on the icebreakers or jua¯ khel (TVR 11.146–147). Following Tulsı¯’s hint, the shyness of the participants is highlighted, but the voluptuous images in the background evoke an atmosphere of s´rfin˙ga¯ra. Kaus´alya¯ and Kaikeyı¯ preside over a touching ceremony, called here du¯dh-bha¯t, where bride and groom feed each other. It is only at this point that Sı¯ta¯ and Ra¯ma look at each other shyly. Kaikeyı¯ whispers something in Sı¯ta¯’s ear, which is instantly understood by Bharata, who warns his brother that his

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new bride may well use the occasion to bite his finger. Sı¯ta¯, though, just smiles blissfully and does not do any such thing. Sa¯gar may well have been inspired here by an earlier passage in Tulsı¯ featuring lahakaura (ritual offering of food by the bridegroom and the bride to each other). Right after the nuptial ceremonies, Tulsı¯ had described how the newlyweds went to the kohabara (apartment) for folk ceremonies. In RCM, no one less than Pa¯rvatı¯ was instructing Ra¯ma, and Sarasvatı¯ took Sı¯ta¯’s side (RCM 1.327 chand 2c). The most significant difference, though, is that Tulsı¯ reports a lot of merrymaking and joking on the occasion (ha¯sa vila¯sa; RCM 1.327 chand 2d; vinoda pramoda; RCM 1.327 chand 3c). In contrast, Sa¯gar features a rather solemn and serene atmosphere. This may be a consequence of his having chosen to concentrate on the games played at the groom’s house rather than those at the bride’s paternal home. In TVR, then follows a contest for finding an object (it looks like a ring, but is called kam ˙ gana¯) in a bowl of liquid. Again, the participants smile beatifically, this time without looking at one another, while their hands search in the liquid. This is in contrast to Tulsı¯’s early icebreaker, where Sı¯ta¯ was so eager to behold Ra¯ma that she remained transfixed on her rings that reflected Ra¯ma’s face (RCM 1.327 chand 3a–b). Back to Sa¯gar’s games: Neither of the two is engaged in the competitive element; they both have to be encouraged to start the game. Sı¯ta¯ wins, smiling shyly. Laksfi manfi a, of course, true to character, cannot really keep himself from telling Ra¯ma to let her win, but Bharata counters that it is not bad that at least at some point Ra¯ma loses. Everyone savors the irony that Sı¯ta¯ wins over Ra¯ma. Sa¯gar could be said to be merely elaborating on Tulsı¯’s hint (RCM 1.350 doha¯ 2), since indeed the participants remain restrainted and shy. It should be said that Sa¯gar may here well draw his inspiration from the myriad folksongs for wedding rituals, some of which irreverently make fun of Ra¯ma as a clumsy groom (unable, for instance to untie the wedding knot, whereas breaking S´iva’s bow was easy for him). Sa¯gar has obviously transformed the situations sketched in such songs into more solemn occasions, while still allowing for the role reversal; his scene is not irreverent but merely ironic, reinforcing the irony of the incarnation. There is something else going on in this episode of TVR, however. Throughout, the stress is on women’s solidarity. The mothers-in-law take the side of the new brides against their sons. This is made explicit by the encouragements they give during the kam ˙ gana¯ dfi hu¯dfi hna¯, commented on by Laksmanfi a, who says “Now the daughters-in-law are counting for more than thefi sons” (Ab betom ˙ se barfihkar bahuem ˙ ho rahı¯ haim ˙ bhayya¯!; TVR 11.147). To this the reply is “What’s that label ‘daughter-in-law’? Rather, they are our daughters” (Kya¯ bahu¯-bahu¯ laga¯ rakha¯ hai? Are, hama¯rı¯ betfiiya¯m ˙ haim ˙ ; TVR 11.147). Clearly, Sa¯gar is taking up the earlier message of the gracious behavior of the girls’ in laws toward her. The mother-in-law, her traditional enemy, is here transformed into an ally. Lest we get carried away, it needs to be said that the women’s solidarity is well entrenched within the patriarchal frame. Meanwhile, in RCM, the bara¯t is dismissed with proper gift-giving (RCM 1.351.2 doha¯). Again, in accordance with loka beda bidhi and following Vasisfi fitha’s orders, brahmans are honored and fed (RCM 1.352.1–2). Everyone says good-


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night to the gurus Vis´va¯mitra and Vasisfi fitha, to whom great wealth is offered, but they only take their traditional fee or nega (RCM 1.352.3–353.2a). All guests are sent away with appropriate gifts (RCM 1.3532b doha¯). The king then retires to the women’s quarters for private celebrations of joy, hugging the newlywed brides and relating the full story of the wedding to his queens, as skilled as a bard (bha¯fita jimi; RCM 1.354). King and sons bathe, and together with gurus and brahmans take an elaborate meal. The joy of all this, Tulsı¯ says, is too much to describe (RCM 1.355.1–3). That may have discouraged Sa¯gar, who, somewhat surprisingly, shows none of this, not even the honoring of the gurus. Tulsı¯’s next scene is taken up by Sa¯gar. In RCM, King Das´aratha, before retiring, urges his queens to take good care of their new daughters-in-law: “The brides are just girls arrived in a strange house. Take care of them like eyelids protecting the eye” (badhu¯ larikanı¯m ˙ para ghara a¯¯ım ˙ , ra¯khehu nayana palaka kı¯ na¯¯ım ˙ ; RCM 1.355.4b). Sa¯gar transforms the scene into a private conversation between Das´aratha and Kaus´alya¯ (who is engaged in sewing) (TVR 11.148–149). Das´aratha muses about Janaka’s worry when he sent off his daughters. Kaus´alya¯ points out that the mother must feel even worse. Das´aratha confirms that “Only a woman can understand a woman’s pain” (strı¯ kı¯ vedana¯ strı¯ hı¯ samajh saktı¯ hai; TVR 11.148). This nod to the women’s perspective is typical for Sa¯gar, and is in line with the scene where Sunayana¯ stated her plight, an innovation compared to RCM. In TVR, Das´aratha then tells Kaus´alya¯ that he has promised Janaka that the girls will never be uncomfortable at their in-laws. It is, he says, Kaus´alya¯’s task to help him keep his word (TVR 11.148). Kaus´alya¯, sincerely hurt, asks whether he seriously fears any less than good treatment. Das´aratha hastens to say that that’s not the case but that they need special care, having arrived in a new environment, and that they need to be loved even more than they were at home. He echoes Tulsı¯: “Just like the apple of the eye is protected between the eyelids, take these four girls under your wings of love” (Jaise palakom ˙ ke bı¯c a¯m ˙ kh kı¯ putalı¯ ko sambha¯la¯ ja¯ta¯ hai, usı¯ tarah in ca¯rom ˙ ko apne pya¯r ke a¯m ˙ cal mem ˙ lapetfi ke rakhna¯; TVR 11.148). Kaus´alya¯ assures him that this will be done and that within a few days the girls will have forgotten their old home. In this way, we have come full circle: Sı¯ta¯’s mother had instructed her that it is a woman’s duty to forget her parental home. In the ideal scenario, that is indeed the case, by the extra love and care of the women in the husband’s home. Sa¯gar’s point is clearly that if everyone plays his or her part the way it is supposed to be, a woman’s position is enviable indeed.

The Wedding Night In contrast to some other versions,32 Va¯lmı¯ki does not report on the wedding night, but simply states that, after they had fulfilled all their obligations, the new brides got to enjoy themselves in private with their husbands (VR 1.77.13– 14). Tulsı¯’s version is surprisingly different. After Das´aratha retires, the queens spread a wonderful bed, described in loving detail (RCM 1.356.1–2), upon which they invite Ra¯ma to sleep. Ra¯ma has to insist repeatedly that all the

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brothers retire for the night, for they are keen to massage his feet. However, if we expected any hint at the first wedding night (suha¯g ra¯t) once he enjoys privacy, we are disappointed. Instead, Tulsı¯ does a great job of evoking the queen-mothers’ emotions, which are convincingly those of typical mothers. We nearly hear them whisper while they glance at Ra¯ma dozing off that they can’t quite fathom how their tender boy could have done all they’ve heard tonight he did, such as kill the terrible demons, break the bow, and so on (RCM 356.4– 357.4).33 All they can think of is that this must be the guru’s grace. The mothers stay with Ra¯ma until he falls asleep, and Tulsı¯ adds a loving description “In his sleep too his very handsome face looks like a golden lotus at dusk” (Nı¯dau¯m ˙ badana soha sutfihi lona¯, manahum ˙ sa¯m ˙ jha sarası¯ruha sona¯; RCM 1.358.1a). In the background we hear the sound of songs coming from every house in Ayodhya¯ (RCM 1.358.1b). Finally the queens go to bed themselves, taking their bahu¯s with them. What is going on is that Tulsı¯ here radically avoids all hint of erotics (s´rfinfi ga¯ra rasa) in favor of vivid motherly feelings (va¯tsalya rasa). The contrast with Krsfi nfi a bhakti is too obvious to miss. It seems that Tulsı¯ quite consciously seeks to distance himself from the eroticism of the Braj poets. Still, he makes sure bhakti is central. The queens’ motherly words form yet another hymn of praise to Ra¯ma. Sa¯gar here chose to ignore Tulsı¯’s va¯tsalya angle. The reason may be that there is a danger that such a portrayal would evoke a hint of child marriage (a much-debated issue with regard to VR; for references see Brockington 1998, 432). Next to dowry, this is another much-debated problem that forms an embarrassment to “reformed” Hindus. The discourse is that the practice is pretty much confined to unenlightened villagers, so it would not be fitting at all for a leading kshatriya family. That is probably why, instead of following Tulsı¯, Sa¯gar shows the beginning of Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯’s wedding night (TVR 11.147–148). We see Sı¯ta¯, decked out in all her jewelry, seated on the wedding bed or phu¯l-sej, waiting for her groom to arrive, while a doha¯ from RCM is recited. The doha¯ in question contains Das´aratha’s command before he retires: “ ‘The boys are tired, and overpowered by sleep, go and put them to bed.’ Saying thus, the king retired to his bedroom, meditating on Ra¯ma’s feet” (larika¯ s´ramita unı¯da basa sayana kara¯vahu ja¯i, asa kahi ge bis´ra¯ma grfiha, ra¯ma carana citu la¯i; RCM 1.355 doha¯). That is totally out of context in the bridal chamber, but Sa¯gar seems to bet in this case that his audience gets just enough of the doha¯, thus taken out of context, that it might think that the meditation on Ra¯ma’s feet refers to Sı¯ta¯. While the reference to Ra¯ma’s feet is made, Sı¯ta¯’s meditative face lights up as she apparently hears his footsteps. When Ra¯ma enters, they look at each other and smile. She gets up and ever so slowly walks to him and stoops to touch his feet. He stops her, and asks why she does so. Now Sı¯ta¯ gets to speak her very first words in his company. She speaks very emphatically, like a child eager to pronounce clearly. She says that her mother told her that he is her Lord (parames´var; TVR 11.147). Ra¯ma then teases her mildly: “Okay, so you have taken your mother’s instruction to heart. Will you also listen to one of my instructions?” (Ma¯m ˙ ka¯ upades´


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to sun liya¯, ab mera¯ ek upades´ sunogı¯?; TVR 11.148). Sı¯¯ta¯ demurely answers, ¯ jn˜a¯ bowing her head: “Please command me, because I am your slave-girl” (A kı¯jiye, maim ˙ to a¯pkı¯ da¯sı¯ hu¯m ˙ ; TVR 11.148). The rest of the scene consists of a long sermon by Ra¯ma. First, he redefines the meaning of what a wife should be: not a slave but a partner. He says: “In that case, my first command is that you should not remain my slave (da¯sı¯). Be my better half (arddha¯m ˙ ginı¯), my friend (mitra), my mate (sakha¯), my companion (sa¯thı¯), walking by my side.” Ra¯ma’s word choice is interesting in that, except for the first, all these epithets are masculine in gender. One might speculate that equalization entails a desexualization of the wife. Ra¯ma goes on to explain what the woman’s companionship involves: “Take part in every good work I carry out, and if you ever see me lose track of the right path, keep me from getting astray. That is the duty of a true friend or a real companion.” There is some irony in Sa¯gar’s putting these words in Ra¯ma’s mouth. After all, he is marya¯da¯purusfia, a paragon of virtue, himself. Since Sa¯gar’s Ra¯ma is set up as an example, we should also consider the real-life implications of this statement. In effect, he is saying that women are to keep their men on the right track. This transfers the burden of responsibility for the man’s moral character to the woman’s care! Ra¯ma continues with a promise: “Mother Kaikeyı¯ told me that I should make sure to give you a present to keep the memory of the first meeting alive. I have brought a gift. It is not one of pearls or diamonds. By way of gift, I give you today a promise. [You know that] kings have the custom to take many queens, but in Ra¯ma’s life there will never be anyone but you. This is Ra¯ma’s oath. Do you know when I first took this oath? When I saw you for the first time in the flower garden, just this way!” Sı¯ta¯ does not receive any spectacular diamond ring or set of pearls. Instead, she gets the most valuable thing for a woman, namely, a vow of faithfulness from her husband. Sa¯gar’s Ra¯ma is quite in character here with his earlier statement of marital faithfulness in the company of his brothers. Of course, Ra¯ma is popularly considered to have taken just one wife, as is expressed by the epithet “monogamous by vow” or ekapatnı¯vratadhara. Va¯lmı¯ki does not really explicitly say so, though he says that Ra¯ma did not take another wife after banishing Sı¯ta¯, and of course throughout the epic Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯ are very devoted to one another (Brockington 1998, 433). Still, there is some debate about whether there are hints at other wives of Ra¯ma in VR (Brockington 1984, 173). Tulsı¯ never uses the term ekapatnı¯vratadhara with reference to Ra¯ma, either, which is surprising. He must have been aware of it, since it occurs at least in the Bha¯gavata Pura¯nfi a (9.10.55). One may infer that Tulsı¯ did consider Ra¯ma monogamous, because he says later that all males in Ra¯ma’s kingdom (Ra¯mra¯jya) had taken a vow of monogamy or eka na¯rı¯ vrata (he hastens to add that the women too were devoted to their husbands in deed, word, and thought; RCM 7.22.4). However, nowhere in RCM is there a description of how Ra¯ma took that vow, certainly not during the wedding night. In short, Sa¯gar manages to make his scene look traditional, but again this is an innovation. At first sight, the scene seems to send a very positive message. Certainly,

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Ra¯ma’s tenderness and wonderful tact on the first wedding night set a great example. Further, all that he says is politically correct. Woman is explicitly lifted in status from subordinate to being equal to man. Marriage is a bond between companions, rather than a subordinating relationship. To top it off, there is Ra¯ma’s promise of, if not quite explicitly faithfulness, at least monogamy. Women might rejoice about Sa¯gar’s portrayal of this excellent example for mortal men.34 One might well argue, though, that the linking of woman’s partnership and her custody of the man’s morality with the man’s faithfulness is in itself a tricky proposition. Does the first become a condition to be fulfilled before the last is imperative? If the final responsibility for the husband’s morality is in the woman’s, not the man’s, hands, does that mean that he cannot be blamed? In other words, does she first have to deserve his faithfulness before it can be granted, and is she then the one who has to wakefully secure it? And has she only to blame herself if he goes astray? It is also significant that the promise is prefaced very emphatically by Sı¯ta¯’s own attitude of self-subjugation. Implicitly, it seems, this is set up as a sine qua non. Deserving women, that is, women who are prepared to play the subordinate role, are promised marital fidelity. It does not take much imagination to see the other side of the coin: women who are not subordinate do not deserve such consideration. The way the episode is portrayed seems to reinforce the old stereotype, after all. One might, in other words, well ask whether only subordinate Sı¯ta¯s deserve monogamous Ra¯mas? It is also striking that Ra¯ma’s lifting Sı¯ta¯ from a state of da¯sı¯ to that of arddha¯m ˙ ginı¯ explicitly takes the form of a command (a¯jn˜a¯). Isn’t it a contradiction in terms that a man commands his wife to be his equal? Ra¯ma’s tone is paternalizing: he knows what is best (for them, if not for her). Sı¯ta¯ does not get to answer; she merely smiles, presumably overcome with happiness with everything he says. Obviously, it is not expected that she will reciprocate his promise. Such would be totally superfluous. If his monogamy is a gift, hers is a given.

Conclusions What can we conclude from this detailed analysis? In which ways does the TVR follow and differ from its sources, and what does that tell us about its biases? Sa¯gar is well in tune with Tulsı¯ in the main. Tulsı¯’s version of the wedding is itself an attempt to “wed” dharma and bhakti. Hymns of praise and expressions of deep emotion are interspersed with references to obeisance to elders and gurus, gift giving to brahmans, zeal for ritual precision, and strict observation of caste dharma. Sa¯gar too tries to have it both ways. Many have remarked on Sa¯gar’s bhakti agenda and the way he exploits the medium of TV to provide multiple occasions for dars´ana. What is less commonly realized, however, is that, in comparison to Tulsı¯’s medieval version, the balance has shifted away from emotional bhakti toward strong endorsem*nt of dharma.


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Sa¯gar’s privileging dharma over bhakti is clear from the many occasions where he turns down Tulsı¯’s emotional pitch and gives more airtime to moralizing sermons. Dars´ana is balanced with s´ravana or moral instruction. This becomes very apparent if we take note of how many of Tulsı¯’s hymns in praise of Ra¯ma have been dropped and replaced with moral sermons. On several occasions Sa¯gar suppresses Tulsı¯’s dars´ana verses in favor of reinforcing dharma. One example is the adoration of the kuladevı¯ after the wedding ceremonies are over, where Sa¯gar substitutes Tulsı¯’s nakha-s´ikha description of Ra¯ma with a pedestrian song stressing the dha¯rmika nature of the event. Sa¯gar’s bhakti, in other words, has become suffused with dharma. Sa¯gar’s message is that emotional devotion needs to be restrained and disciplined, and emotional excess is strongly discouraged. This is perhaps most strikingly seen on the occasion of the leave-taking of the bara¯t, where Tulsı¯’s scenes are drenched in karunfi a rasa, and he indulges in a description of all Sı¯ta¯’s relatives crying their full. Sa¯gar instead uses the occasion to warn against excessive emotions. One example of an innovation to make that point is the scene where Sunayana¯ confesses her trepidations for her daughter to the gurupatnı¯, and is chided for not better restraining her emotions. A good example of change in focus is the scene of the farewell of the queen-mother to Sı¯ta¯. Hardly any emotion is allowed to surface until after a long lecture on women’s dharma. Of all the classical types of bhakti, it seems that Sa¯gar has worked deliberately to stay safely away from the erotic or s´rfin˙ga¯ra mode, and favors instead modes like serenity or s´a¯nti, and servitude or da¯sya. The latter comes to the fore most strongly in the wedding scene, where Janaka washes Ra¯ma’s feet. Whereas Tulsı¯’s text had several other occasions for foot washing, this is the only one that Sa¯gar chooses to depict. He dwells on the scene a comparatively long time, which seems significant in assessing his bhakti preferences. Sa¯gar’s privileging dharma over bhakti has also its repercussions in the way the character of Ra¯ma is portrayed. Sa¯gar makes every little thing Ra¯ma says or does exemplary for human moral conduct. As a result, Ra¯ma becomes more and more remote, less a likely object for bhakti. He becomes so “sanitized,” so disciplined and detached in everything he does, that there are hardly any emotions left to endear him to us. Sa¯gar’s stress on the irony of the incarnation is such that we are never allowed to lose track of the fact that he is just “going through the motions.” We cannot very well identify with him and sympathize during the “contest,” because he himself is so aloof. Even when he is falling in love, winning Sı¯ta¯’s hand, and then marrying the woman of his choice, he is portrayed as perfectly equanimous. The irony is that the main object of Sa¯gar’s bhakti, namely Ra¯ma, has become devoid of emotion himself. The whole point of his “going through the motions” once again, of his incarnation on TV, is to provide plenty of occasion for dars´ana and to inspire love. Here again Sa¯gar seems to be in agreement with Tulsı¯, but his emphasis is on love channeled within the boundaries of propriety. If Sı¯ta¯ is the ideal loving bhakta, he emphatically states that her love (and of course Ra¯ma’s) remains well within boundaries of marya¯da¯. Their love is emphatically said to be preordained (by Ra¯ma himself in his musings to his brothers), and of course

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it is sanctioned in Vedic and family traditional manner by a wedding. Even the gods explicitly approve. What is more important, at no point does Sı¯ta¯ give in to her emotions. Everything she does is always with due respect for elders and for her subordinate position to Ra¯ma. It is even following his command that she gets to consider herself to be his partner rather than his slave. In Krfisfi nfi a bhakti, the ideal loving devotee is God’s beloved, yet Sı¯ta¯’s conjugal love seems light years away from Ra¯dha¯’s s´rfin˙ga¯ra, and shows more affinity with da¯sya bhakti. If one compares Sa¯gar to Va¯lmı¯ki, it is apparent how much the latter focuses on women’s rites and women’s perspective. Again, he has this in common with Tulsı¯, but one should also refer to the context on Doordarshan, where several serials had women-oriented narratives (Mankekar 1999, 104). Interestingly, these serials were set in a joint-family context (Mankekar 1999, 110), and Sa¯gar’s “soap opera of the gods” turns out to be also family-focused. This perspective is one that we do not find in Tulsı¯, and that seems to have inspired many of Sa¯gar’s innovations. This is particularly clear from the reception of Janaka’s message in Ayodhya¯, which is depicted in a family rather than court context. It is also evident from the repeated stress that the wedding is a family affair, not one of individuals. Sa¯gar’s picture of the joint family is very rosy. In his ideal epic world, there is no tension between the bride’s party and the groom’s party, or between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law (nor, for that matter, between co-wives). Interestingly, stress on the unusual harmony of these traditional dyads is not new, but already present in VR. What is new is that in his editorial comments Sa¯gar explicitly recommends following the epic example. The message sent to the family of grooms is to treat the bride’s family with respect, and the new brides, once they arrive, with love and understanding. In his editorial comments, Sa¯gar says that if people follow this example, a lot of tensions will disappear from “our society” and the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a story will come true. There is a hint here of a suggestion that the “tensions” are later accretions, whereas the pure Hindu ideal does not insist on the inequalities. When Sa¯gar asks his audience to follow the royal house of Ayodhya¯’s example, he does not deal with the cause of many of the problems, namely dowry. He does not address the issue directly, just mentions Sı¯ta¯’s dowry in passing. In doing so, he seems to condone the practice, or at least, he does not condemn it and classifies it in the category of auspicious elements that constitute a successful wedding. This unwillingness to confront the issue directly is all the more suspect because Sa¯gar does show the problem of the plight of the father of the bride, by dwelling on Janaka’s despair. He does so without ever touching on the issue of dowry, which hovers like a ghost in the background. The way Sa¯gar portrays it, the secret of the happy joint family seems to be obedience to elders and male dominance. At every step, Sa¯gar is keen to highlight the submissive attitude of his characters, even of Ra¯ma himself, to paternal and elder male authority. To some extent this was already the case in VR, and more so in RCM. However, Sa¯gar definitely goes farthest. His characters show impeccably respectful behavior and obedience to elders in word and deed.


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Sa¯gar’s innovation of the intimate conversation of father and son after their reunion in Mithila¯ seems to have for its raison d’eˆtre exactly driving home this point. During the whole scene, Ra¯ma is seen busily massaging his father’s feet, while repeatedly humbly ascribing his success to his father’s inspiration, even in absentia. The importance of obedience to paternal authority is also clear from the passages of RCM that Sa¯gar chooses to leave out, such as Sı¯ta¯’s rebellious thoughts about her father’s condition for her wedding. Sa¯gar also had Sı¯ta¯ touch Ra¯ma’s feet after the svayam ˙ vara, whereas Tulsı¯ had said she refrained from doing so. Modesty in front of elders is another form of respectful behavior that Sa¯gar favors. He singles out for quotation verses from RCM that stress Sı¯ta¯’s modesty during the svayam ˙ vara ceremony. He goes further in this respect than Tulsı¯: during the whole wedding ceremony, Sa¯gar’s Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯ are not shown looking at each other, whereas Tulsı¯ had explicitly added a verse to describe their beholding one another. Sa¯gar’s message to the young stresses the priority of the family above the individual. This is clear in several of his innovations, most explicitly in Vasisfitha’s lecture about the social importance of a wedding. Sa¯gar is most explicit:fi a wedding is a meeting of families, not of hearts. If classically svayam ˙ varas were seen as ga¯ndharva viva¯ha, Sa¯gar is quick to subvert this. We have seen how in more than one way he does all he can to make it clear that though Sı¯ta¯ and Ra¯ma may have fallen in love at first sight, theirs is no love marriage. Sa¯gar is very concerned to communicate clearly that in the ideal epic world love marriages are out. Parental approval, if not determination of the match, is central. Sa¯gar also stresses the need for private desires to be submerged and made secondary to dharma and marya¯da¯. He values positively the lack of agency of Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯ in having their love sanctified in marriage. In his editorial comment, he stresses that Ra¯ma makes no move to lift the bow until commanded to do so by his guru, although he understood Sı¯ta¯’s agony full well. Such self-effacing silence is typical for the idiom of the Hindi movie. Whereas the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a tradition is often blamed for such morality that glorifies the submergence of individual desires for the common good, paradoxically the contemporary TVR allows for much less agency than VR itself.35 The message sent to young women is remarkably conservative, notwithstanding all the stress on women’s perspectives and the airtime given to women’s rituals, which creates the illusion of empowerment of women. Sa¯gar’s characters endorse unabashedly patriarchal values. Sunayana¯’s upades´a to the young brides and Janaka’s parting words to Sı¯ta¯ are explicit statements to that effect. Sa¯gar’s stress is all the more remarkable because, contrary to what one might suspect, he is not basing these passages directly on his sources. Va¯lmı¯ki had none of this upades´a during the wedding, and Tulsı¯da¯s significantly less. Another example where Sa¯gar is more conservative than Tulsı¯ is at the climax of the wedding. The actual formula spoken by Sı¯ta¯’s father in TVR is Va¯lmı¯ki’s. The father asks the groom to accept the bride as sahadharmacarı¯ or partner in dharma. He calls her pativrata¯ and says she will follow her husband like a shadow. This formula is significantly different from the classical

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formula according to the dharmas´a¯stras spoken at this point. Sa¯gar chose Va¯lmı¯ki’s formula, which solely refers to the bride’s duties, whereas the classical one focused on the groom’s duties not to transgress against his wife in dharma, artha, and ka¯ma. Sa¯gar seems concerned to stress women’s duties rather than women’s rights. One could argue that Sa¯gar makes up for this in the wedding night scene, where Ra¯ma makes his promise of monogamy. However, the husband’s exclusive commitment to the woman is not presented as her right, but as a favor. More than Va¯lmı¯ki or Tulsı¯, Sa¯gar seems to promise that if (and only if ) a young bride is ready to subjugate herself to her husband’s family, she will encounter love and understanding. Ditto for the relationship between husband and wife. If she is prepared to obey him unconditionally, his command will be that she should be his equal, his partner rather than a da¯sı¯. He may even promise to return her exclusive devotion. In both cases, the outcome for women seems liberating, but in both cases it is actually predicated on the condition of a woman’s subjugation. A woman’s subjugation is always a given, whereas anything she receives in return is portrayed as a gift. We see very much the same phenomenon in popular recent Hindi hit movies. I have in mind particulary Hum Aap ke Hain Koun, the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a elements of which I have discussed elsewhere (Pauwels 2000). The heroines featured are Hindu women loved by their men and in-laws. They have a veneer of modernity, yet at the same time they are firmly rooted in dharma and in their joint family. The latter is portrayed as a happy harmonious group. The current popularity of both TV Ra¯ma¯yanfi a and such movies—as opposed to the elite “feminist” movies—seems to indicate that this hits a nerve. There is a strong desire among women to have an identity that allows for both: a measure of Western-style “emancipation,” yet also a strong family basis. Maybe we should also look at it from the other side, and say that men like to be seen as being “enlightened” toward their womenfolk, yet at the same time assured of their subservience? Clearly, the series answered a strong need, a yearning to overcome the dichotomy between modernity and tradition and to find a symbiosis of both in a hybrid identity to be proud of. In other words, like the TVR, the movies show how you can have your cake and eat it too. The picture we get from the TVR also fits well with what has been said about the Hindu right’s construction of Hindu women. On the one hand, the Hindu right offers an empowing self-image for women, yet this remains in service of the ultimate cause of the Hindu nation—in particular, the goal of instilling in their children obedience to authority.36 This fits Sa¯gar’s privileging societal and political welfare above individual happiness. The Hindu nation’s supremacy comes true particularly in Vasisfifitha’s sanctioning of Sı¯ta¯ and Ra¯ma’s ¯ ryan powers. Further, as we have wedding as the union of two important A pointed out, even more than RCM, TVR stresses obedience to gurus, to the point that all agency seems to be transferred from the political rulers to holy men. This fits again well with the political agenda of the Hindu right. I am not trying to make a case for blaming TVR for the rise of the Hindu right. Nor am I trying to make a statement about Sa¯gar’s political sympa-


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thies.37 All I have shown is that the “message” of the televized Ra¯ma¯yanfi a is considerably on the conservative side compared to its ancient and medieval “sources.” This may not ring politically correct in a Western academic climate, yet the popularity of the series shows that its message struck a chord in India. notes 1. Such is the common perception, though there are notable exceptions; see Kishwar 1997. 2. Throughout the paper I will refer to TVR by giving the episode as well as the page number in the extremely helpful (though sometimes incomplete) transcription of the text by Girish Bakhshi, as edited by Tomio Mizokami (1992). 3. I am grateful to Julie Mehta, a contributor to this volume, who shared with me her observations on this social innovation. 4. There is a tendency in contemporary research to dismiss several ideological aspects of Hinduism in general, and Sa¯gar’s Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in particular, as originating in or in response to colonial discourse. Obviously the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a tradition is older than the much-studied nineteenth century, and many elements, including unflattering descriptions of “indiginous people,” are much older. The fallacy is often that scholars conflate particular Ra¯ma¯yanfi a versions with meta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a ideas. Even such a careful analyst as Purnima Mankekar conflates those (1999: 205–207). She traces the portrayal of Ra¯ma as embodying both sannya¯si and kshatriya to Bankimcandra, whereas, of course, the combination is much older. 5. References in what follows will be to the vulgate edition of the Gı¯ta¯ Press, rather than to the critical edition, because of its widespread popularity and availability. The translations I have provided are intended to be functional and literal. I have much benefited and occasionally taken over phrases from the Gı¯ta¯ Press and Goldman translations. 6. References in what follows will be to the vulgate edition by Gı¯ta¯ Press rather than to the critical edition, again because of its popularity. Again, the translations are meant to be functional, and I have benefited much from the Hindi paraphrase published with the edition, and occasionally also from existing translations, in particular Vaudeville 1977. 7. For a comparison of Tulsı¯’s RCM and Ja¯nakı¯manfi gal versions of the wedding, see Stasik 1995. I am grateful to the author for bringing this article to my attention; unfortunately I only found out about it after my paper was finalized. 8. Kapila Vatsyayan suggested this in response to my presentation at the “Mediating Culture” conference on the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a at the University of British Columbia in June 2000. Another participant, William Smith, also suggested comparison with Bengali portrayals of Sı¯ta¯ in film. A more visually oriented interpretation of part of the wedding scenes has been carried out by Dalmia-Lu¨deritz 1991. 9. Interestingly, the epic kshatriya svayam ˙ varas deviate from what is outlined in the s´a¯stras; see Kane 1974, pp. 523–524. The authors of the s´a¯stras apparently interpreted it as a form of ga¯ndharva viva¯ha, which is exactly what Sa¯gar works hard to counter. This interpretation is already in Va¯lmı¯ki, though some elements of the more prestigious kanya¯da¯na type of marriage are present, and this is most explicit again in Sa¯gar’s version. For a full discussion of the evolution of the svayam ˙ vara from the epics to the s´a¯stras, see Brockington 2000.

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10. The passage is of great interest because of its explicit instruction to women, and deserves to be examined in its own right. I plan to study it at a later date. 11. Tulsı¯ is inspired by the Adhya¯tma Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, in which predestination is palpable in every line. This work is usually attributed to the fourteenth century and seen as one of the major sources of Tulsı¯’s Ma¯nas; see Vaudeville 1955. I have used for reference an edition by the Ramakrishna Math (AR). The wedding episode in AR starts out following VR: Vis´va¯mitra asks for Ra¯ma to see the bow, which, it is well known, others have seen too. Still, there is a definite svayam ˙ vara flavor to the episode: Ra¯ma is said to string the bow “in the assembly of the kings,” and Sı¯ta¯ is present and “crowns” him with a svarnfi amayı¯ ma¯la¯ (AR 1.6.29). 12. This has also been noted by Dalmia-Lu¨deritz 1991, p. 225. 13. This is in contrast to the Adhya¯tma Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. RCM also creates tension in its description of the reaction of the people once the Ra¯ghava boys and Sı¯ta¯ have arrived in the public space of the contest. There is an element of predestination in that people know that Ra¯ma is the right match for Sı¯ta¯ (1.249.1). On the other hand, they see Janaka’s condition for winning Sı¯ta¯’s hand as an obstacle to the outcome (1.249.2– 3). The TV version owes much in its dramatic treatment to the theatrical conventions of Hindi theater and movies, as noted by Dalmia-Lu¨deritz 1991, p. 211. 14. It is only in this limited sense that we can speak of a parallel. There are also many differences. For one, in RCM, Ra¯ma’s trial is “more real” than Sı¯ta¯’s, since the latter is undergone by a shadow-Sı¯ta¯. Moreover, Sı¯ta¯ is supportive and concerned that Ra¯ma may win his trial, whereas Ra¯ma “speaks some harsh words” during Sı¯ta¯’s trial. In terms of audience reaction, also, as Vidyut Aklujkar has rightly pointed out in her response to this paper, Ra¯ma’s trial does not come even close to eliciting the same emotional response as Sı¯ta¯’s does. 15. This seems also to be in contrast with the traditional Ra¯mlı¯la¯ performances of Ra¯mnagar, as exemplified by the corresponding lı¯la¯ performed on September 10, 1979 (Kapur 1990, p. 67). 16. Literally “receiving.” 17. The stress on the relative status of bride-givers and bride-takers in this episode has also been noticed by Lutgendorf (1990, p. 150), who translated this passage. 18. The bara¯t also sings of the greatness of their host (RCM 1.307.1), a striking difference from current practice. 19. Goldman (1984, p. 390) notes that some commentators felt uncomfortable with the simultaneous wedding of the four brothers on one day. 20. Note also Tulsı¯’s special stress on the good omens that accompany the bara¯t (RCM 1.298–300). This may be read as a counterpart to the bad omens in VR that announce the arrival of Paras´ura¯m when the bara¯t is on its way back home (VR 1.74.6–14). 21. Va¯lmı¯ki also describes Kaikeyı¯’s brother Yudha¯jit’s arrival during the goda¯na ceremonies (VR 1.73.1–6), but this is not taken up by RCM. In TVR there is a faint echo, in an episode that is an innovation. Here, upon hearing the news of Bharat’s wedding, Manthara¯ encourages Kaikeyı¯ to take the preparations for her son in hand and argues that as soon as he hears the news, her father will send her brother (TVR 10.130). Sa¯gar also uses this episode as an ironic foreshadowing of later happenings, when Manthara¯ will encourage Kaikeyı¯ to have Ra¯ma banned. 22. To some extent, one could argue that Tulsı¯ strives for a popularization of the wedding with full participation not only of women but also of low castes. In one line, the presence of na¯¯ıs, ba¯rı¯s, bha¯fits, and natfis is mentioned (as recipients of money distributed by Ra¯ma); see RCM 1.319 doha¯.


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23. The wedding ceremonies of the Ra¯mnagar Ra¯mlı¯la¯ too are reported to be conducted in Sanskrit, as exemplified in the lı¯la¯ of September 10, 1979 (see Kapur 1990, p. 70). 24. Only during the actual circumambulation of the fire are the heavenly flowers said to rain down (VR 1.73.37). For text-critical remarks on the phenomenon, see Goldman 1984, p. 391. 25. This reduction of the other gods to second-balcony spectators has interesting parallels in vernacular descriptions of Krfisfi nfi a’s ra¯slı¯la¯ (see, for example, Harira¯m Vya¯s’s version as analyzed in Pauwels 1996, p. 170). 26. Interestingly, Tulsı¯’s text says “Hearing the melodious singing, holy men abandoned their asceticism, and Cupid and cuckoos were ashamed” (kalaga¯na suni muni dhya¯na tya¯gahim ˙ ka¯ma kokila la¯jahim ˙ ; RCM 1.322 chand). Although this verse is sung in TVR, the gurus present are shown with their back to the women, and they do not even so much as glance in their direction. 27. This episode is reportedly very popular with the audience of the Ra¯mnagar Ra¯mlı¯la¯ (see Kapur 1990, p. 72). 28. Both the meal and the ga¯rı¯ performance are highlights of the Ra¯mnagar Ra¯mlı¯la¯ (see ibid.). 29. Das´aratha says emphatically that this is “Das´aratha’s word,” an element of foreshadowing of later more dramatic happenings. 30. Sa¯gar may well have been inspired by Tulsı¯’s pun to that effect in the context of the pa¯nigahanu ceremony of Ra¯ma: “How could Videha’s king pay his respects, when the image of the dark one (Ra¯ma) had made him bodiless (bidehu)” (kyom ˙ karai binaya bidehu kiyo bidehu mu¯rati sa¯vam ˙ rı¯m ˙ ; RCM 1.324 chand 3c). 31. There are some different emphases in Anasu¯ya¯’s speech. Appropriately for the occasion, she also stresses that a woman should never leave her husband in bad days. She also colorfully describes the dire consequences of any tresspasses, including becoming a child widow in one’s next birth (vidhva¯ hoi pa¯i taruna¯¯ı). As a true brahman, she gives a classification of the different types of wives, and she also stresses that though a woman may be impure (apa¯vani), she still can reach the highest good (s´ubh gati) through service of the husband. 32. I have in mind the Maha¯na¯fitaka, the entire second act of which is devoted to the love-play of Sı¯ta¯ and Ra¯ma. 33. This is also the scenario depicted in the Ra¯mnagar Ra¯mlı¯la¯, see Kapur 1990, pp. 74–75. 34. Moving beyond gender issues, one could say that the scene also has an apologetic ring to it. Sa¯gar’s linking of these issues is typical for a discourse of modernity: “In the old days, when women were regarded as slaves, polygamy was the norm. Now, women can become full partners, so monogamy prevails.” At the same time it enforces a Hindu chauvinist discourse, that even in those unenlightened days Ra¯ma got it right. 35. In RCM too, Ra¯ma has less agency than in VR, but the stress here is on the irony of the avatar, a typical bhakti theme. In the TVR, by contrast, it is the exemplary function of Ra¯ma that is explicitly stressed. 36. As Sarkar points out (Sarkar and Butalia 1995, p. 184), significantly, they are called “woman-servant of the nation” or ra¯sfitrasevika¯, not “volunteer of the nation” or ra¯fisfitrı¯ya svayamsevak. 37. It is interesting that Sa¯gar makes frequent use of the term sam ˙ ska¯ra, which is a key term for the Hindu right (Ibid., p. 189). However, Sa¯gar’s political position seems quite ambiguous, as in 1987 he credited the go-ahead for his succesful TV se-

wedding of ra¯ ma and sı¯ta¯


ries to Rajiv Ga¯ndhi at a ceremony in his honor presided over by a stalwart of the Hindu right, Swa¯mı¯ Vis´vesfi Tı¯rth (Jaffrelot 1996, p. 390 n. 81).

references Primary Sources Swa¯mı¯ Tapasya¯nanda, ed. and trans. 1985. Adhya¯tma Ra¯ma¯yanfi a: The Spiritual Version of the Ra¯ma Saga. Original Sanskrit with English Translation. Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math. RCM Podda¯r, Hanuma¯nprasa¯d, ed. and comm. [1942] 1990. S´rı¯madgosva¯mı¯ Tulsı¯da¯sjı¯viracita S´rı¯ra¯mcaritma¯nas. Gorakhpur: Gı¯ta¯ Press. RR Katha¯va¯cak Ra¯dhes´ya¯m. 1971. Ra¯dhes´ya¯m Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. 7th ed. S´rı¯ Barelı¯: Ra¯dhes´ya¯m Pustaka¯lay. TVR Sa¯gar, Ra¯ma¯nand. 1987. Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Video cassettes. Transcribed nearly completely in Girish Bakhshi and Tomio Mizokami, eds. Ramayana: A TV serial by Ramanand Sagar. Osaka: Osaka University of Foreign Studies, 1992. VR Goswami, Chinmanlal, ed. 1969. S´rı¯mad Va¯lmı¯ki-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, with Sanskrit Text and English Translation. 3 vols. Gorakhpur: Gita Press. AR

Secondary Sources Brockington, John L. 1984. Righteous Ra¯ma: The Evolution of an Epic. Delhi: Oxford University Press. ———. 1998. The Sanskrit Epics. Leiden: Brill. ˙ varas.” Paper delivered at the Elev———. 2000. “Sanskrit Epic Tradition IV: Svayam enth World Sanskrit Conference, Torino, Italy, April 3–8, 2000. Dalmia-Lu¨deritz, Vasudha. 1991. “Television and Tradition: Some Observations on the Serialization of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a.” In Ra¯ma¯yanfi a and Ra¯ma¯yanfi as, edited by Monika Thiel-Horstmann. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, pp. 207–228. Entwistle, Alan W. 1987. Braj: Centre of Krishna Pilgrimage. Groningen: Egbert Forsten. Goldman, Robert, ed. and trans. 1984. The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Va¯lmı¯ki: An Epic of Ancient India. Vol. 1. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Jaffrelot, Christophe. 1996. The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics: 1925 to the 1990s. London: Hurst. Kane, Pandurang Vaman. 1974. History of Dharmas´a¯stra: Ancient and Medieval Civil Law in India. Vol. 2.1. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. Kapur, Anuradha. 1990. Actors, Pilgrims, Kings, and Gods: The Ramlila at Ramnagar. Calcutta: Seagull. Kishwar, Madhu. 1997. “Yes to Sı¯ta¯, No to Ra¯m.” In Manushi 98: 20–31. Lutgendorf, Philip. 1990. “Ramayan: The Video.” In Drama Review 34.2: 127–176. Mankekar, Purnima. 1999. Screening Culture, Viewing Politics: An Ethnography of Television, Womanhood, and Nation in Postcolonial India. Durham: Duke University Press. Pauwels, Heidi R.M. 2000. “Three Ways of Falling in Love: Tulsı¯da¯s’s Phulva¯rı¯ Episode and the Way It Is Portrayed in Contemporary Electronic Media.” In A Varied Optic: Contemporary Studies in the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, edited by Mandakranta Bose. Vancouver: Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia, pp. 55–100. ———. 1996. Krfisfinfi a’s Round Dance Reconsidered: Harira¯m Vya¯s’s Hindı¯ Ra¯span˜ca¯dhya¯yı¯. London Studies on South Asia 12. Richmond: Curzon Press.


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Sarkar, Tanika, and Urvashi Butalia. 1995. Women and the Hindu Right: A Collection of Essays. New Delhi: Kali for Women. Stasik, Danuta. 1995. “The Divine Marriage: The Nuptials of Ra¯m and Sı¯ta¯ as Seen by Tulsı¯.” In Proceedings of International Conference on Sanskrit and Related Studies (Cracow, September 23–26, 1993). Cracow Indological Studies, vol. 1. Cracow: Enigma Press. Vaudeville, Charlotte. 1955. E´tude sur les sources et la composition du Ra¯ma¯yanfi a de Tulsı¯Da¯s. Paris: Adrien Maisonneuve. ———. trans. 1977. Le Ra¯ma¯yanfi a de Tulsı¯-Da¯s, texte hindi traduit et commente´. Paris: Socie´te´ d’Edition “Les Belles Lettres.”

appendix. comparative overview of the wedding scene in vr, rcm, tvr The following abbreviations are used in this chart for the sake of brevity: R stands for Ra¯ma, S for Sı¯ta¯, L for Laksfi manfi a, D for Das´aratha, J for Janaka, Vi for Vis´va¯mitra, Va for Vas´isfifitha, Kai for Kaikeyı¯, Kau for Kaus´alya¯, Bh for Bharata, S´ for S´atrughna. I have used the sign ⬃ to indicate a comparison made by the poet. For VR and RCM, the numbers in parentheses indicate section and verse. For TVR, numbers indicate episodes and page numbers in the transcribed version. VR



Breaking of Bow J is performing svayam ˙ vara (S´ivadhanusfipu¯ja¯) Vi had come on invitation of J (5) Morning: L excited, R “teaches the Gı¯ta¯” (7) Vi announces invitation from J: “let’s see who wins” (7) L: winner ⫽ on whom you have krfipa¯ Prearrival conversation of kings (7) Courtesy call of Vi on J (65) On arrival: public dars´ana On arrival: RCM 241.1&2 (acc. (240–3) to own bha¯vana¯) (7) Each beholds acc. to own bha¯v- TABLEAU ana¯ & nakhas´ikha & each own emotions (S, Ra¯nfi ¯ı) Vi asks J to show boys the bow Special welcome by J (244) J’s welcome (7) (65) Reaction of good & bad kings King’s reaction: match has (244–6) been predetermined (7) Story of origin of bow & S (65) Arrival of S (246–8) (jagat jan- Arrival of S: RCM 246 doha¯ & anı¯, eager to see R, yet shy in 248.1. 2b, 4 & doha¯ (7) (jagafront of elders) tjananı¯, eager to see R, yet shy in front of elders) (7) Context: J is performing a J performs dhanusfiyagya/svayyajn˜a am ˙ vara Vi comes on own initiative but Same as VR (214–5) is well received Morning: R & L do ablutions (239) S´ata¯nanda, sent by J to invite (239) L: winner ⫽ Vi’s krfipa¯bha¯jan (240)

wedding of ra¯ ma and sı¯ta¯ VR

Vow: vı¯ras´ulka (S born from earth) (65)

RCM Reaction of people to S’s appearance (249) Bards proclaim panfi a (249–50)



Bards: RCM 248 doha¯ (call bandı¯jan) (7) Genealogy: Hindi pop song Ham bandı¯jan (7) Ra¯vanfi a & Ba¯nfi a could not lift RCM 249: vrat & RCM 250.1–2 (250) (Ra¯vanfi a and Ba¯nfi a)(7) Story: failed suitors & ensuing Kings try to lift the bow (251) Kus´adhvaja announces beginsiege (65) ning (7) Kings try to lift the bow (7) S’s mother Sunayana¯ tense, Kus´adhvaja’s wife advises calm (7) Bow unmoved ⬃ satı¯; words of RCM 250.4 & doha¯ (all try) (7) lecher Kings ridiculous ⬃ sanya¯sı¯ ⬃ RCM 251.1b (satı¯ comparison) vira¯ga (7) J proclaims: if R succeeds, is to J’s despair (251–2) J’s despair (7) marry S (65) Moral quandary Moral quandary (7) ¯ j yeh dhartı¯ vı¯rom Bı¯ra bihı¯na mahı¯/binu bhata A ˙ se kha¯li ho bhubi bha¯¯ı gaı¯ (7) L’s reaction (252–3)(eager to L’s reaction (insulted on behalf lift bow) of R) (7) All (also S & R) react to L’s J apologizes (7) words (254) Bow publicly shown to Ra¯ma (66) Vi commands R to behold bow Vi commands R to break bow (66) (254) R does so R on stage ⬃ sun, people’s eyes ⬃ lotus R gets up, bows to Vi (255)

R expresses intention to lift & string (66) Permission of guru & king (66)

Enacting: RCM 254.3 (Vi commands R) (7) R gets up, bows to Vi: RCM 255.3 (7) 254 doha¯ (R on stage ⬃ sun, people’s eyes ⬃ lotus) (7) Bad kings laugh & ridicule him (7)

R’s prayer (255) S’s mother Sunayana¯ tense, yet Sunayana¯ tense, not comforted comforted (255–7) by Kus´adhavaja’s wife (7) S’s prayer (257–9) Enacting RCM 257b–4 (S’s prayer) (8) Devoted tana mana bacana RCM 259. 2b–3 (devoted tana mana vacana) Make me his da¯sı¯ Make me his da¯sı¯ True love will find its true True love will find its true mate mate (8) R knows S’s worry (259) RCM 260 doha¯ (R knows S’s worry) (8) (continued )


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Ra¯ma breaks bow (66) Everyone falls down except king and R & L (66) J: “my daughter belongs to Ra¯ma”(66)

J sends messenger with Vi’s permission (66)

RCM L: “earth should hold still” (260) Everyone holds breath (260) R breaks bow because S is dying (261) Reaction: guru & gods & people (262) Queen, king relieved, kings react (263) Reaction of S & L (263) S brings vijayama¯la¯ (263–4) General jubilation (264–5) S does not touch his feet (265) Reaction of good and bad kings (266–7) Confusion: S back to mother (267) Women of Mithila scold kings (268.1) Paras´ura¯m (268–285) J sends messenger on Vi’s cue (286–7) Further instructions wedding prep (287) Construction of manfi dfi apa (288– 9)


R breaks bow: RCM 261.1b–3a (S is dying) (8) Sunayana¯ asks Sı¯ta¯ to put on varama¯la¯ (8) TABLEAU Enacting filmı¯ song: pahana¯o jayama¯la¯

Paras´ura¯m (8) Vi urges J to send messenger to Ayodhya¯ (8) Wedding is fait accompli by breaking of bow (8)

Message to Ayodhya¯ Messengers in Ayodhya¯ (67)

Messengers in Ayodhya¯ (290)

See godlike D (67)

Effect on D (290)

Message (courteous but short) (67) D’s approval with counselors (67)

B & S´ arrive to hear (290) D asks how sons are doing (291) Message (praise of R) (291–3) D wants to give nicha¯var (293)

Messengers reject: anı¯ti (293)

B & S´ tell news to D & Kai and Kau (vı¯ryata¯ stressed) (9) Effect on Kai and Kau (sa¯s and da¯dı¯ to be) (9) Family banter (9)

D’s private message for R & L (9) Messenger notes irony (children to you, heroes to others) (9) Official message (cut short: already known) (9) D offers gift (pearls) (9) Messenger refuses (daughter’s sasura¯l) (9) Va approves (9) D first asks Va’s opinion (9) (political overview: union of 2 major a¯rya¯varta s´aktis) (9)

wedding of ra¯ ma and sı¯ta¯ VR




Va’s blessing (the good [D] will be happy) (294) Report to queens, who honor brahmans & give other gifts (295) Avadh happy (women’s songs) (296–7)

Kau prepares for great gift giving (9) Kau sends message for S’s mother: S is not bahu but betfii (9)

Bara¯t Sumantra charged with bara¯t prep (69)

B (& S´) arrange for bara¯t (298–300)

Journey (4 days)

Journey: good s´akun (303–4) & great

Va sets muhurt next morning (9) B & S´ to arrange for bara¯t (9)

Welcome Ceremonies D greeted by J (68)

D: “receiver dependent on giver” (14)

Greeted by agava¯n party & gifts (304–6) Terrific Janva¯s (306) Special welcome from S (306) Reaction of bara¯t: praise of J (307)

In Mithila: Sanskrit recitation from Yajurveda (9) D greeted by J (vinamrata¯) (9) D: I’ve come tied by love (9) J marvels at his luck (9) D: it’s all the work of vidha¯ta¯: bara¯bar ke sam ˙ bandhı¯ (9) J: not equality (9) D: quotes VR pratigraho da¯trfivas´a (9) More pleasantries (9) S´ata¯nanda suggests guests rest (9) L eager to meet D, R calm (9) R & L eager to meet D, don’t Vi takes them to meet with faask, but Vi understands (307) ther (9) When meeting, D pays respect TABLEAU: meeting with father to Vi, R & L to Va (307–8) (9) RCM 307 doha¯ & 308.1–2 (D sees sons but greets Vi first) (9) Innovation: R massaging father’s feet, D compliments him (9) R attributes all success to his father’s example (9) D: I’ve acted for myself, R for others (9) R: son’s duty is to carry out father’s wishes even unspoken (9) (continued )


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TVR D: but who inspired you to break the bow (music suggests Sı¯ta¯) (9) Innovation: L tells B & S´ about R’s meeting with S (bha¯bi ke pahle dars´an) (9) R appears, S´ asks: prem s´a¯stra in guru as´ram? R: taught by nature (prakrfiti se): match fixed by God, exclusive (9)

Janaka suggests next day for wedding (69)

General joy (309) Videha women: fourfold wedding (310–1) Kings go home happy (312) Jyotisfi set engagement time (312) (agaha¯n month, as fixed by Brahma¯) Everyone happy, esp. gods (313–5) Dars´ana of R etc. as grooms (316–7) (even gods praise their eyes)

J’s welcome, S´ata¯nanda announces: vidhipurvak aur dharm purvak kanya¯da¯n (9) Set time on basis of lagnapatrika¯(9) D: Va will show ma¯rgdars´an (9)

Bride’s rites are done (69)

Wedding Preparations Kus´adhvaja yajn˜agopta¯ (69) D is invited (69)

Meeting D & J sam ˙ dhi equals (320)

Va recites lineage & asks for 2 daughters (69)

J recites his lineage (70) Urges D to do tonsure & ancestor worship (70) J suggests date: uttarapha¯lgunı¯ (70) Vi suggests fourfold wedding (71) Va confirms and also date J agrees (71) D retires & ceremonies (goda¯na) (71)

Va recites lineage to indicate R is fully worthy (9) J agrees (9) Vi, with Va give permission, suggest fourfold wedding (9) pu¯ja¯ of Va, Vi, D all brahmans (320–1) Bards do s´a¯khocca¯r (324)

J agrees (women happy); suggestion all in 1 day (uttarapha¯lgunı¯) (9)

Va exhorts D to do goda¯n, etc. (9)

wedding of ra¯ ma and sı¯ta¯ VR



TVR Innovation 1: Girls’ quarters: Sunanda¯ relates news (9) Happiness about 4 sisters marrying 4 brothers (9) Innovation 2: Speech of director explaining supremacy of marya¯da¯ Innovation 3: Kai gets news about fourfold wedding, tells Kau & Su (10) Manthara¯ urges Kai to celebrate separately for B (ref. maika¯) (10)

Kaikeyı¯’s brother joins festivities (72) kautukaman˙gala (72) V reports to Janaka (72) Brides are ready too (72)

J calls suha¯ginı¯s for parachan (317)

Preparation for wedding fire, munis reciting from Yajurveda (10) Women (& goddesses) man˙gal- Gods decide to go & witness gı¯t (318) events (10) Esp. S’s mother (318) S´rfin˙ga¯r of brides & mehndı¯, but sakhis leave to see bara¯t (10) Folksy songs for bara¯t (a¯¯ı hai bara¯t jankajı¯ke dva¯re) (10) Puja¯ by women led by Sunayana¯ (10)

Wedding Ceremony Proper Grooms enter (72)

Grooms enter manfi dfi apa & get a¯rati(319)

Gods unrecognized, except by R (321)

Arrival S & reactions (322–3) S’s pu¯ja¯: Gaurı¯, Ganfi es´a, brahmans (323) S looks at R (323) Pakha¯rna¯ of feet of R (324)

Grooms enter manfi dfi apa Songs for manfi dfi apa: (lagana manfi dfi apa mem ˙ padha¯ro) (10) Welcome tilaka (S´an˙karaca¯rya stuti & Durga¯sapatas´atı¯) & a¯rati by J (10) S´iva & Brahma¯ come down and are recognized by R (10) J welcomes & gives command to call for S (10) Brides arrive: RCM 322 chand (beauty of S)(10) S does not look at R (10) TABLEAU Pakha¯rna¯: RCM 324 chand 1a– b & 324 chand 2c–d (10) Hastalepa: Durga¯sapatas´atı¯ (10) Panfi igraha:RCM 324 chand 3 (10) (continued )


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Janaka bestows hands of brides kanya¯da¯n (324) to grooms (72) Comparison-wedding S´iva & Pa¯rvatı¯

Circumambulation of fire, etc. (72)

bha¯m ˙ varı¯ (325) & sindur

Other brides & grooms (325)

Grooms return to camp with brides (72)

TVR J grants S’s hand: VR 1.72.17, GP 73.27 pativrata¯ maha¯bha¯ga¯ cha¯yeva¯nugata¯ sada¯(10) RCM 324 chand 4a–b (comparison with Girija¯’s wedding) (10) Knot & Varama¯la¯: Yajurveda, Visfinfi usahasrana¯mastotra, Durga¯ seven hundred (10) Women’s song (baranfi a la¯gı¯ bha¯m ˙ variya¯) & RCM 325.1 (10) R does ma¯m ˙ gbharanfi : RCM 325.4 (sindur) & song (man˙gal ga¯o rı¯) (10) Marriage of others (recitation) (10) J & D vie in humbleness (10)

Big dowry, most given away (326) Brides and grooms to kohabara Procession brides & grooms, (326) obeisance to kuldevı¯ (folksy song) (10) Exit: RCM 327 doha¯ (10) Innovation 1: Sunayana¯ reflects on sadness of losing daughter (10) Gurupatnı¯ comforts her (10) S shyly gazes at R (327) Gahakaura (327) Brides & grooms to D (328) & jevana¯r While eating hear ga¯rı¯s (329) Big goda¯n(330–1)

Leaving Ceremonies Vi departs (73) D takes leave (73)

D doesn’t get permission to leave (332)

J pleads with D not to go yet, D promises not to go till told to (10) Innovation 2: Kai & Kau & Su decide waiting too long (11) Kai sends message: kanya¯paksfia will have to do as varapaksfia pleases (11) D rejects message but Sumantra talks realpolitik (11) Innovation 3: Comments of people: daughter & ma¯ya¯ (11)

wedding of ra¯ ma and sı¯ta¯ VR

RCM Vi & S´ata¯nanda ask J, then leave (333)


TVR Vi and S´ata¯nanda convince J (nı¯tiraksfia¯ & girl ⫽ para¯yı¯) (11) Va reports to D and calls for bida¯¯ı (11) Sunayana¯ hints that her husband gave big dowry (11) Sunayana¯ upades´a (gift of mother ⫽ na¯rı¯ dharm) (11)

Many gifts to daughters (kanya¯- J sends bara¯t back with big dhana) (73) dowry (333) Reaction of queens & upades´a (334) People eager to see them (335) Ceremonies by queens (336–7) Tragic sentiment on bida¯¯ı She has to be reminded to do (337–8) bida¯¯ı (11) J sends them off with tears (338) D comes to get girls; stops J from touching his feet (11) J pleads with D to be gentle toward girls (11) D: “brides ⫽ ghar kı¯ Laksfi mı¯” not at feet, at forehead (11) Girls are not servants, but maha¯ra¯nfi ¯ıs (11) J gives upades´a (339) S´ata¯nanda announces it’s time (11) J gives upades´a Procession leaves (73) Folksong (jab doli mem ˙ baitfihkar bitfiiya¯ ja¯e bides) (11) Paras´ura¯ma Ill omens: Ra¯ma Ja¯madagnya appears (73–5)

R’s obeisance to Va, etc. let’s go home (76)

Good s´akuns (340) J accompanies for a while (341) D asks him finally to leave (341) J sings praise of R (342) J takes leave from Vi (343)

Arrival in Ayodhya¯ Beauty of Ayodhya¯ (76) Queens welcome brides (76)

Princesses perform pu¯ja¯

Welcome in Ayodhya¯ (344–5) Queens getting ready (345–6) Va orders bara¯t to enter city (347) People gaze (348) Queens do parachan (348–9) Queens do lokrı¯ti (350)

RCM 348–9 (mothers do parachan of grooms (11) RCM 349 (all according to nı¯ti, rı¯ti, etc.) (11) (continued )


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TVR Va recites Sanskrit stotra (11) Enactment: queens do parachan Brides & grooms do pu¯ja¯ of Sun deity Kai suggest R does his kautuk (negca¯r) first, B agrees (11) First dudh bha¯t (not bahu, but daughters) (11) Searching for kam ˙ gana¯: S wins (11)

Duties fulfilled, couples make love (76)

Bara¯t guests leave (351) D & all honor Va (352) Presents to women (353) D in Ranfi ¯ıva¯s & reports news (354) Private meal (355) RCM 355: all tired & retire (11) D asks queens to care of bahus D asks Kau to make bahus (355) happy, Kau sees Sunayana¯’s plight (11) D retires (355) Queens set up bedrooms (356) Brothers muse: tender R ⫽ strong (357) All brothers in own beds (357) Queens lead bahus to bed (358)

R devoted to S, he to her (76)

R & S’s wedding night: ekapatnı¯vrata (11)

8 When Does Sı¯ta¯ Cease to Be Sı¯ta¯? Notes toward a Cultural Grammar of Indian Narratives Velcheru Narayana Rao “Of all the Ra¯ma¯yanfi as that have been told so far, is there any one in which Sı¯ta¯ does not go to the forest with Ra¯ma?” asks Sı¯ta¯ when Ra¯ma discourages her from following him to the forest, in one of the versions A. K. Ramanujan reports. Anachronistic and even postmodern as it might sound, this question raises the more general issue—when does Sı¯ta¯ cease to be Sı¯ta¯? Clearly, Ramanujan’s Sı¯ta¯ knows that she must go to the forest because every Sı¯ta¯ in every version of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a goes to the forest. If Sı¯ta¯ does not go to the forest, she is not Sı¯ta¯, nor is the story a Ra¯ma¯yanfi a story. My question in this essay is simple: How many changes in the narrative does a Sı¯ta¯ character comfortably accept and at what point does a change trigger another character that is no longer Sı¯ta¯? To use a linguistic analogy, the phoneme /p/ in English is a cluster of features of a particular sound value within which you may vary, but by the time you shift from the feature of voiced to unvoiced, you are no longer saying /p/. Now it is /b/. Is there a similar boundary for the features that make up the “phoneme” Sı¯ta¯ in the “language” of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a? Using Va¯lmı¯ki’s text for Sundaraka¯nfi dfi a, and several versions of the events of Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a, where Sı¯ta¯’s personality is on full display, I discuss this question, drawing upon several non-Va¯lmı¯ki versions of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a and some more recent “anti-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a” texts to illustrate this point further. Making a broad classification of narratives based on a tripartite cultural ideology of land, trade, and pastoralism, I suggest that the Sı¯ta¯ in Va¯lmı¯ki and Va¯lmı¯ki-based texts is a heroine of a land narrative, in contrast to the heroines of the trade


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and pastoral narratives. In conclusion, I suggest that the prominence of Sı¯ta¯ as a role model of Indian womanhood is the result both of the political dominance of the landed ideology at the expense of the other two and of a recent impulse to imagine the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a as a national epic. I will begin with a reading of Sı¯ta¯ in Va¯lmı¯ki. Va¯lmı¯ki’s name, if not his actual narrative, provides the infallible basis for all Ra¯ma¯yanfi a texts. What I intend to do here is something unconventional: I want to suspend all the religious and devotional layers tradition has invested in Va¯lmı¯ki’s name, which transform his text into a sacred utterance. I want to read Va¯lmı¯ki’s text for its human drama. Since my intention is to discuss gender and power relations in Ra¯ma¯yanfi a narratives, I hope to be forgiven for this somewhat literalist project.

Sı¯ta¯ in Sundaraka¯nfi dfi a Let us begin with Sı¯ta¯ as Va¯lmı¯ki presents her in Sundaraka¯nfi dfi a. Va¯lmı¯ki gives a woman extraordinary passive power as long as she stays within the limits of the house, trusts in the strength of her husband to save her from all troubles, and does not sleep with any other man. A chaste woman, a pativrata¯, has a social and moral power that she can manipulate to her advantage. This is what Sı¯ta¯ does more intelligently than the bhakti readers of Va¯lmı¯ki’s text usually realize. Sundaraka¯nfi dfi a provides strong evidence of her manipulative skills. In captivity Sı¯ta¯ is utterly helpless, with no apparent strategy to protect herself. Her total helplessness and her unshaken confidence in Ra¯ma’s ability to save her are the two inseparable qualities that endear her to her readers. In the face of death threats from the ra¯ksfiasa women who guard her, Sı¯ta¯ defiantly says she is ready for any physical suffering, including death, because life without her husband is worse than death.1 She continues to reject the advances of Ra¯vanfi a, saying she would not touch such a despicable creature even with her left foot. Immediately after this, she goes into a soliloquy about Ra¯ma’s invincible strength. She wonders how this puny demon Ra¯vanfi a is able to imprison her while she has a mighty husband who can easily kill him in battle. However, she has one worry: perhaps Ra¯ma has neglected her, forgotten her? Otherwise, why would he not come to save her? She consoles herself with the one comforting thought available to her: Ra¯ma does not know that she is on this godforsaken island. To keep her sanity, she continues to remain confident that Ra¯ma will come and save her. She imagines in graphic detail how totally and completely Ra¯ma will destroy Lan˙ka¯ —and more particularly, how the women in Lan˙ka¯ will suffer widowhood when Ra¯ma, along with Laksfi manfi a, comes and kills their husbands in battle2 As is well known to every reader of Sundaraka¯nfi dfi a—in almost any telling— Hanuma¯n offers to take her away from Lan˙ka¯ and solve the problem once and for all. Sı¯ta¯ can reunite with her husband, put an end to her own and every one else’s suffering, and the story can end happily ever after. The arguments that Sı¯ta¯ gives against this solution demonstrate her manipulative intelligence

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at its perfect pitch. First, she compliments Hanuma¯n for his strength and agrees he is capable of rescuing her. I know your strength and courage. You are the greatest among monkeys. You have the speed of wind and the strength of fire astonishingly blended in you. I know you are able to return home and take me with you, too. And the swift accomplishment of Ra¯ma’s mission is to be the goal in all our plans.3 Then a host of reasons follow why it would not be correct for Hanuma¯n to rescue her. She could fall off Hanuma¯n’s shoulders and die. Or the demons could chase after Hanuma¯n, and Hanuma¯n could find the responsibility of protecting her an additional burden. Sı¯ta¯ could also fall out of fear, or even from an accidental push when Hanuma¯n is involved in a fight. The demons would then get a second chance to imprison her, and this time they would hide her in a secret place, impossible for any one, even Hanuma¯n, to find. They might even kill her. And then Ra¯ma, Laksfi manfi a, even Sugrı¯va and An˙gada would die of grief. The inclusion in this list of Sugrı¯va and An˙gada—total strangers to her until Hanuma¯n had told her of them—is clearly to discourage Hanuma¯n from any further interest in pressing his offer. Finally, the last argument is the real clincher: Hanuma¯n himself might be killed; after all, success or failure in battle is never sure. At this point, Sı¯ta¯ realizes that she is probably humiliating Hanuma¯n by so graphically depicting his defeat in this imaginary battle with the demons. She quickly corrects herself by adding that she knows Hanuma¯n could kill all the demons and more. But then, if Hanuma¯n takes care of all those who deserve to be killed, what is left for Ra¯ma to do? Ra¯ma’s fame as an incomparable warrior would be deflated. Hanuma¯n should not show off his strength now; it would be a disservice to Ra¯ma. Sı¯ta¯ then offers a final argument that cannot fail. She, as a pativrata¯, will not touch another man and for this reason she cannot sit on Hanuma¯n’s shoulder. She immediately remembers that the demon Ra¯vanfi a did actually touch her; he lifted her with his hands on her buttocks and placed her on his chariot when he took her away to Lan˙ka¯. But she excuses herself this lapse because she was helpless. She was utterly weak, unprotected, and was not in a position to resist or fight with Ra¯vanfi a. Touching Ra¯vanfi a was not her doing, whereas touching Hanuma¯n would be her choice, and therefore very compromising. This argument makes Hanuma¯n feel guilty for having suggested that he take her on his shoulders, and he offers an apologetic explanation. Sı¯ta¯ now concludes her presentation with a request. She wants Hanuma¯n to persuade Ra¯ma to come and save her. She is absolutely confident of the invincible power of Ra¯ma:


velcheru narayana rao If Ra¯ma kills Ra¯vanfi a, his family and his relatives, takes me in pride and returns home, that’s an action that befits him. I know his strength and I have seen him fight. He is powerful, a killer in battle. Gods, demigods, dragons or demons— no one equals him if he decides to fight. Who can stand up to him in an open battle? He holds no ordinary bow. In his strength he equals the king of the gods. Coupled with his brother, Ra¯ma is invincible. He is like fire ablaze, quickened by wind. He is like the burning sun at the end of the world. He is like an elephant guarding space. He is a killer in battle. Who can stand up to him if he comes with his brother, swift as an arrow? So bring him here and make me happy with his army, his commanders and his powerful brother. I grieve without him, alone in this island. Great monkey, do this for me.4

What Sı¯ta¯ wants is to make Ra¯ma destroy Ra¯vanfi a, his family, his entire clan, and the city. Not until then is she willing to leave Lan˙ka¯. She is willing to extend her personal suffering until that moment, until Hanuma¯n convinces Ra¯ma to go to Lan˙ka¯ to battle with Ra¯vanfi a. Sı¯ta¯ relates an incident from her life to Hanuma¯n that only she and Ra¯ma know of. This would serve as proof to Ra¯ma that Hanuma¯n did actually find Sı¯ta¯ herself. The story she chooses is carefully calculated to appeal to Ra¯ma’s male pride by reminding him how he was provoked to valor when someone else tried to molest his wife. When a demon in the form of a crow attacked Sı¯ta¯ in the forest, tearing at her breasts, Ra¯ma took a blade of grass and infused it with the power of Brahma¯stra, the ultimate weapon of destruction, and sent it against the crow. Sı¯ta¯ concludes, addressing Ra¯ma: You know your weapons; they are the best. You are strong and truthful, for certain, but why not use these weapons on this demon, if you really care for me? (36.36) And why doesn’t that brother of yours take orders from you? That scourge of his enemies doesn’t help me. What could the reason be? (36.39) The two of you, strong as tigers and equal to wind and fire.

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Even gods can’t face you, let alone demons. Why are you so passive about me? (36.40) You used the deadliest of your weapons on a mere crow that hurt me. Why do you then forgive the demon who stole me away from you? (36.43)5 She continues her message to Ra¯ma, complaining about his tardiness in rescuing her and questioning why his brother has not been helping him in this task. Sı¯ta¯’s competence as a skillful diplomat is not complete without her compliments to Laksfi manfi a as part of her final message to the brothers. She praises Laksfi manfi a’s physical strength as a warrior with broad shoulders and long arms, and compliments him on his good heart. She acknowledges that Laksfi manfi a respects his brother as a father and—what’s more critical here— loves Sı¯ta¯ as his mother. She concludes by saying she is very fond of Laksfi manfi a and knows he will skillfully complete any task given by his brother, no matter how difficult.6 These words about Laksfi manfi a appear on the surface to be good wishes sent by a sister-in-law to her brother-in-law. But they have a crucial significance for Laksfi manfi a, who knows that Sı¯ta¯ had accused him of harboring a secret desire for her. Laksfi manfi a had left Sı¯ta¯ alone against his brother’s command precisely because of this terrible accusation. It was her adamant demand that Laksfi manfi a leave her alone in the forest and go to help Ra¯ma who had gone after the magic deer that precipitated matters in the first place and brought her to her present captivity. She remembers very poignantly that Laksfi manfi a might feel justified in letting her suffer her fate for her willfulness and abusive temper. But now she needs Laksfi manfi a’s support to encourage his brother to invade Lan˙ka¯. This message is carefully worded as a veiled apology for her past behavior and is a poignant appeal for help. The Sı¯ta¯ of Sundaraka¯nfi dfi a is weak, unable to help herself, and by the very same token very skillful in prodding her man to become the hero he has to be in order to protect her. It is this Sı¯ta¯ who makes Ra¯ma the warrior and punisher of demons. In other words, the hero we know Ra¯ma to be is a male response to a weak and dependent Sı¯ta¯, generated by the power relations in the gendered world of the Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a.

Problematics of Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a Now let us turn to Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a, the “later” Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, the more complicated part of the Ra¯ma story that describes his abandoning the pregnant Sı¯ta¯ in the forest without even warning her. The details of the narrative are too well known to need repetition here. The narrative is beset with difficult and troubling events that have challenged the imagination of Ra¯ma¯yanfi a poets for ages. Some of them, such as Kampan4 in Tamil and Viswanatha Satyanarayana in Telugu, have even rejected the entire later Ra¯ma¯yanfi a as an interpolation and saved


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themselves the trouble of answering uncomfortable questions. If Va¯lmı¯ki did not write it, it has no validity. The easiest way of devaluing a text is to divest it of its original source of authority, its author. But then there are great writers such as Ka¯lı¯da¯sa, Bhavabhu¯ti, and Din ˜ gna¯ga who took the narrative and presented it in brilliantly creative ways, interpreting Va¯lmı¯ki without apologies. I will begin with a close reading of Va¯lmı¯ki’s text to argue that the Ra¯ma created by the first part of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a is obligated, in the second part, to behave the way he does toward Sı¯ta¯, and that Sı¯ta¯ has no choice other than to accept Ra¯ma’s decision. In Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a, Ra¯ma is happy that his wife is pregnant, that she is going to give him a child, and so he lovingly asks her what she desires and what he may do to please her. She requests to see the forests on the shore of the river Ganges where sages practice their austerities. She even wants to spend one night there eating roots and berries among the trees. Eager to satisfy the craving of his pregnant wife, her loving husband Ra¯ma is willing to give that gift to her. “You will definitely go to the forest tomorrow,” he says, “trust me.”7 Ra¯ma spends time with his friends, who banter and joke with him, when he casually asks one of them, “What are people saying about me and my wife and my brothers?”8 Evidently, the friends come from among the ordinary folk of the city and they have access to people in all walks of life. The friend who was asked this question responds in the same friendly and intimate tone, “They say a lot of things about you, both good and bad (s´ubha¯s´ubham).”9 He describes how people praise Ra¯ma for his extraordinary achievements, such as building a bridge across the ocean, something unheard of before, and killing the powerful demon Ra¯vanfi a, making friends with monkeys, bears, and even demons. They also say that Ra¯ma has put his anger behind him, has brought Sı¯ta¯ back and taken her into his inner chamber. Now comes the criticism. His friend reports that people say: He [Ra¯ma] must really love the sexual pleasure she gives to him (sambhogajam sukham). He is not disgusted that she sat in Ra¯vanfi a’s lap when he dragged her to Lan˙ka¯ and later kept her in the As´oka garden. That whole time she was under Ra¯vanfi a’s control (vas´am). How could he take her back? From now on this behavior will be the law of the land because whatever the king does, the people also do (yatha¯ hi kurute ra¯ja¯ praja¯ tam anuvartate). This is what people have been saying in the city and the countryside, all over.10 It is clear that Ra¯ma does not suspect his wife himself, but feels he has to be a good king to his people, be a role model for them all. Clearly, the conflict is between his personal feelings and kingly responsibilities. He discusses the matter with his brothers Laksfi manfi a, Bharata, S´atrughna, and tells them with tears in his eyes the problem that he faces. He describes how this slandering of Sı¯ta¯ pains him. He reminds them that Sı¯ta¯ was born into a noble family and points out that Laksfi manfi a witnessed the events in the forest when Sı¯ta¯ was taken by force. Then he confesses that he did have questions in his mind about

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bringing Sı¯ta¯ back to Ayodhya¯. Would his people accept her? He describes how Sı¯ta¯ entered the fire to prove her chastity and how, while Laksfi manfi a and everyone else was looking on, the god of fire and the god of wind both testified that Sı¯ta¯ was pure. Even the sun and the moon gave the same testimony to a group of gods and sages. Sı¯ta¯ was unblemished.11 He agonizes. “I know in my own mind that Sı¯ta¯ is unblemished. But people still speak ill of her. The good name (kı¯rti) of the royal family is important.”12 He therefore decides that he has no alternative but to banish Sı¯ta¯. A question arises from his decision: Could he not convince the people by properly informing them and educating them? Apparently he could not, because it would be self-serving to speak in favor of his own wife. Anything he does to prove her chastity would be suspect. But more important, the social norm that makes women responsible for showing evidence of their chastity and constantly suspects them is the very bedrock of this culture. It cannot be changed. It is this conviction that makes Ra¯ma choose to behave like the king he is in preference to the husband he is—at the expense of his and Sı¯ta¯’s personal feelings. What is significant is that Sı¯ta¯ understands this, too. She does not fight against the cultural values that cause this suspicion to begin with. She does not question the value of chastity. She is not even angry with Ra¯ma for what he has done to her. She approves of his decision to discard her for fear of scandal and takes the responsibility upon herself to clear Ra¯ma’s name. She even rejects the idea of suicide because that would kill Ra¯ma’s children that she is carrying in her womb. If she blames anyone at all, she blames her own fate, the sins she may have committed in a past life. In effect, Sı¯ta¯ wants to continue to be a respected pativrata¯ in this culture, and accepts all the pain and suffering that it brings, hoping that in the end she will be rewarded with the absolute approval of being a chaste wife. Here Va¯lmı¯ki enters the story to rescue Sı¯ta¯. He does not suspect her because he has seen everything with his divine vision and therefore knows the truth. Toward the end of Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a we are reintroduced to the context that was first narrated in the beginning of the text, when Sı¯ta¯’s sons Kus´a and Lava sing the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a story as composed by Va¯lmı¯ki to King Ra¯ma. Realizing that Sı¯ta¯ is still alive and that Kus´a and Lava are none other than his sons, Ra¯ma wants to know who is the author of the story and wants Sı¯ta¯ to be brought back to him. After being informed that Va¯lmı¯ki, who incidentally is visiting the city, is the author, Ra¯ma tells Va¯lmı¯ki that he would accept Sı¯ta¯ back if she performs an act of truth (s´apatha) to prove that she is chaste. By performing such an act of truth, Ra¯ma hopes that her name will finally be cleared and with it his name as well (s´odhana¯rtham mamaiva ca). Va¯lmı¯ki approves of the idea and promises that Sı¯ta¯ will do as required. Ra¯ma is happy that he will get his wife back because she will now have an occasion to prove her chastity in front of all the sages, citizens, and anybody else who wants to witness it. Sı¯ta¯ arrives with her head bent, walking behind Va¯lmı¯ki. Putting his own reputation as a sage and the merit of all his austerities on the line, Va¯lmı¯ki declares in the


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presence of everyone gathered that Sı¯ta¯ is pure, and that the twins are Ra¯ma’s sons. Sı¯ta¯ does perform an act of truth, asserting her absolute fidelity to Ra¯ma, but not in a way Ra¯ma would have expected. Sı¯ta¯ declares: I have never set my mind on any man other than Ra¯ma, so may the goddess of the earth open up for me. I have served only Ra¯ma in thought, word and deed, so may the goddess of the earth open up for me. If all that I have spoken is true, and if I do not know any man other than Ra¯ma, may the goddess of the earth open up for me.13 At that moment, the earth breaks open and a golden throne rises from below with the goddess Earth seated on it. The goddess invites Sı¯ta¯ into her lap, and the throne disappears into the underworld as gods rain flowers from the sky. An amazed Ra¯ma realizes what has happened and gets angry at Earth for taking his wife away from him. He demands the goddess return his wife to him or else he will destroy the entire earth with its mountains, forests, and all. He wants her back badly (matta). He is even willing to go and live in the underworld or anywhere else as long as he can have Sı¯ta¯ back. Once the good name of Sı¯ta is reestablished to the satisfaction of his people, he is now free to admit that he loves her, and wants her back. But it is too late; Sı¯ta¯ is gone forever. This is the most intriguing part of Va¯lmı¯ki’s text and one that is difficult to interpret definitively. Based on her behavior as an obedient and chaste wife, one would expect Sı¯ta¯ to ask Earth or some other god or goddess to clear her name for everyone to hear, so she could be taken back by her husband. In choosing to return to the earth, she has accomplished two things: she has proven her chastity and demonstrated her independence, as well. It is both a declaration of her integrity and a powerful indictment against a culture that suspects women. It is difficult not to interpret this as Sı¯ta¯’s protest against the way she was treated by her people and by her husband. She probably concluded that the people would never believe in her chastity, and Ra¯ma would never be allowed to take her back with love and affection. The only course left for her was to leave the scene once and for all. Even with this, Sı¯ta¯ has not done anything that would compromise her status as a faithful wife. An expression of such independence is apparently acceptable as long as she has not touched another man. Din ˜ gna¯ga in his Kundama¯la¯ and Bhavabhu¯ti in his Uttarara¯macarita revisit the story of Sı¯ta¯’s abandonment in the forest. Apparently, there is something ideologically unacceptable and emotionally unsatisfying for them when Sı¯ta¯ demonstrates her independence in rejecting Ra¯ma as well as the people, albeit within her bounds. Both playwrights have expressed an intense need to reunite Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯ as husband and wife separated by a third, inevitable force, whatever that might be. Both Din ˜ gna¯ga and Bhavabhu¯ti repeat what we know from Va¯lmı¯ki: that Ra¯ma abandoned Sı¯ta¯ not because he suspects her but because the people in his kingdom suspect her. Laksfi manfi a says to Sı¯ta¯ in the forest where he has taken her to be abandoned on his brother’s orders, “The sages saw, as did the rulers of the world. Ra¯ma himself was there and I watched

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too. You came out pure from the fire. The people still blame you and the people are powerful (loko niran˙kus´ahfi ).”14 Both Bhavabhu¯ti and Din ˜ gna¯ga take us through an elaborate and complex psychology, drawing a distinction between Ra¯ma as a private person and Ra¯ma as a player in the larger theater of the world. Both authors distinguish between being for oneself and being for others—the inevitable existential tragedy of a kings’s life. Din ˜ gna¯ga does this with great sensitivity to Sı¯ta¯. In his play, Sı¯ta¯ is intensely aware of the painful distinction between her role as a mother and carrier of the seed of the Raghu dynasty and her place in Ra¯ma’s heart as his beloved companion. In a poignant scene, Va¯lmı¯ki encounters the pregnant Sı¯ta¯ in the forest yet unaware of her identity. Va¯lmı¯ki asks her if she has been exiled by King Ra¯ma. When Sı¯ta¯ answers affirmatively, Va¯lmı¯ki says: “If you are driven out by the king who is dedicated to establishing the rule of varnfi a¯´srama social order, good luck to you. I am going (yadi tvam varnfi a¯s´ramavyavastha¯bhutena maha¯ra¯jena nirva¯sita¯si tat svasti bhavatyai gaccha¯my aham).” Sı¯ta¯ repeats her appeal for help—this time in a different tone: “If you cannot show compassion to me because Ra¯ma threw me out, you should at least rescue me because I carry the seed of the family of Raghu, Dilı¯pa, Das´aratha and others in my womb.” A curious Va¯lmı¯ki asks if she is the daughter-in-law of Das´aratha and the daughter of Janaka. Sı¯ta¯ answers, “Yes.” Va¯lmı¯ki pursues further, “Are you then Sı¯ta¯?” And Sı¯ta¯ says, “Not Sı¯ta¯. I’m an unfortunate woman.”15 It is very significant that Sı¯ta¯ disowns her own identity as Sı¯ta¯ when her faithfulness to Ra¯ma is in question. She ceases to be Sı¯ta¯ when she is suspected of not being a faithful wife of Ra¯ma. The distinction is important. Sı¯ta¯ as suspected wife has no status in this world. But as a mother she has all the power she would want to command, provided she uses it powerlessly, so to speak. She shows her personal anger against Ra¯ma, but in a very controlled manner. When Laksfi manfi a takes her to the forest to abandon her there on Ra¯ma’s orders, he asks if she has a message for Ra¯ma. Sı¯ta¯ says: “If I am giving a message to that cruel man, it is because you asked and I can’t say no to you. Tell him to take care of the kingdom and the rule of law, not to disregard his duties as king worrying about me. Ask him to take care of his health.” The sarcasm is obvious. Then she collects herself and asks Laksfi manfi a: “Am I being too harsh to the king?” To which Laksfi manfi a responds, “You have the right to be, don’t you?”16 Sı¯ta¯ is acutely aware of her public status as a wife when she says: “People always mention—when they talk about ideal couples—S´iva and Pa¯rvatı¯ in heaven, and Sı¯ta¯ and Ra¯ma on earth.”17 Despite all her anger, she is aware of her place in Ra¯ma’s heart—and does understand the difference between Ra¯ma’s action in his kingly role and his feelings toward her as loving husband. Even after convincing herself that Ra¯ma abandoned her to save the kingship from being tarnished, in her own mind Sı¯ta¯ continues to doubt if Ra¯ma really loves her. In her conversation with her sons in Va¯lmı¯ki’s hermitage, she always refers to Ra¯ma as “that merciless man,” niranukros´a (giving the impression to the boys that that is actually their father’s name).18 Sı¯ta¯ never ex-


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presses her doubts to anyone, even her intimate friends. The conversation between Vedavatı¯ and Sı¯ta¯ illustrates Sı¯ta¯’s public posture. Vedavatı¯ asks “Why do you suffer for him? You are growing thin like the waning moon. He has no love for you. He doesn’t want you back.” Sı¯ta¯ immediately objects, and insists that Ra¯ma loves her and has not really left her. He has only left her physically; not in his heart. She confidently says, “His heart is never far from me.”19 The question still persists. Loko niran˙kus´ahfi , the people cannot be disciplined. Neither Din ˜ gna¯ga nor Bhavabhu¯ti accept this as inevitable and refuse to live within the dictates of the people. They believe that people can be educated to examine the evidence and change their minds, and unlike Va¯lmı¯ki, both authors want Sı¯ta¯ to reunite with Ra¯ma. Both show in some detail that Ra¯ma suffers for Sı¯ta¯ in her absence, as much as Sı¯ta¯ suffers the separation, clearly suggesting that he had to abandon her as king, but as husband her absence was unbearable for him. In the Kundama¯la¯, the poet devises a strategy to make this happen. Through his ascetic power Va¯lmı¯ki arranges it such that women become invisible to men when they walk around the river, so their freedom is not curtailed when Ra¯ma and his retinue visit the hermitage on the invitation of the sage. This allows Sı¯ta¯ to walk invisibly close to Ra¯ma, whom she can see but who in turn is unable to see her. Thus, an invisible Sı¯ta¯ overhears Ra¯ma speaking to himself, expressing his feelings for her. A similar but more elaborate strategy is adopted by Bhavabhu¯ti to let his audience know that Ra¯ma has suffered quietly in agony because of Sı¯ta¯’s absence.20 Clearly, both Din ˜ gna¯ga and Bhavabhu¯ti show that in order for her to return to Ra¯ma, Sı¯ta¯ needs the personal reassurance that Ra¯ma really loves her, just about as much as Ra¯ma needs a public testimony that Sı¯ta¯ has been faithful to him, so his people would be convinced of her chastity. There are incidents in both plays when Ra¯ma is directly condemned by one of the characters; for instance, in Kundama¯la¯, Va¯lmı¯ki publicly rebukes Ra¯ma for not respecting the testimony of Fire and for choosing to obey the slander of uneducated people. One wonders, listening to the harsh tone of the sage addressing Ra¯ma, if Din ˜ gna¯ga is condemning Ra¯ma much like an anti-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a author of modern times. Listen to Va¯lmı¯ki’s words in the play: Hey King, you think of yourself as a kindhearted man, a person of noble birth, wise and just. Is it proper for you to abandon your wife Sı¯ta¯—a woman given by King Janaka, received by your father Das´aratha, recognized as auspicious by Arundhatı¯, declared chaste by sage Va¯lmı¯ki, accepted as pure by Vibha¯vasu, daughter of the goddess Earth, and mother of your sons, Kus´a and Lava—just because you happened to hear some people slander her?21 The interrogation continues, “After you killed the ten-headed antigod Ra¯vanfi a, when you took Sı¯ta¯ back, who vouched for her chastity?” Ra¯ma meekly responds, “The god of Fire.” Then Va¯lmı¯ki asks, “What then made you disregard his testimony?” At this point, Sı¯ta¯ feels that she is to blame for the public condemnation her husband is being subjected to by Va¯lmı¯ki. She covers her ears so as not to hear Va¯lmı¯ki railing against her husband, calling him a dic-

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tator, niran˙kus´a. Soon, the goddess Earth appears with great fanfare and declares to all assembled there that Sı¯ta¯ is chaste, totally above blame. The people accept this declaration with approval and celebration. Ra¯ma accepts Sı¯ta¯, acknowledging her chastity.22 On close reading of this section of the play, we realize that Va¯lmı¯ki’s angry words are not really aimed at Ra¯ma but at the people who are assembled there and who have slandered Sı¯ta¯ unjustly. This is the education that Din ˜ gna¯ga believes the people in the story require, and which he provides through this incident. In the end, Ra¯ma remains justified in his act of abandoning Sı¯ta¯, as Sı¯ta¯ is honored in willingly going through the suffering without blaming Ra¯ma. To summarize, in the world of Va¯lmı¯ki and his followers, women have to carry the seed of the family in its purity and therefore not only are they bound to be chaste, they also bear the responsibility to prove their chastity. A pativrata¯ has to accept the burden of proof that she is a pativrata¯. In other words, she is guilty until proven innocent. Once the pativrata¯ creates herself, she also creates her protector who by definition has to turn into her tormentor. If this man has to live up to what is expected of a pativrata¯’s husband, he has no alternative except to abandon her when her pa¯tivratya is suspected, giving her the opportunity to prove her innocence in public. In effect, Sı¯ta¯ creates Ra¯ma, and Ra¯ma creates Sı¯ta¯. They mutually construct each other. You cannot have one without the other.

Sı¯ta¯ in Selected Non-Va¯lmı¯ki Versions Long before modern revisionist readings of the Ra¯ma/Sı¯ta¯ relationship, there were several radical readings during the premodern period, some of which are well known, such as the Jaina versions of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a and the version popularized by Krfittiva¯sa in Bengal. Among them, the versions told by women in Telugu are quite striking. Telugu women’s Ra¯ma¯yanfi a songs include a song entitled Kus´alava-kuccala-katha¯.23 In this story, Ra¯ma’s sons kill him without knowing who he is. The story begins when Ra¯ma leaves a horse to roam the world unchecked as a part of the horse sacrifice he is performing, a ritual that allows him to declare himself a king of the whole world. Anyone who objects to this declaration would have to stop the horse from crossing their land. Ra¯ma would then fight and defeat them and get the horse released. If he fails to do so, he would lose the title of king of the world. When Lava and Kus´a notice the horse where they live, they catch it as an expression of their strength. The guards following the horse go and report to Ra¯ma that two young boys have captured the horse. Ra¯ma sends his army to fight the boys, but the boys defeat the army. Puzzled and bewildered, Ra¯ma sends Laksfi manfi a to take care of the problem, but the boys kill Laksfi manfi a, as well. Left with no other choice, Ra¯ma himself goes to battle the boys. The boys kill Ra¯ma, too, and quietly go to tell their mother that they have killed a couple of men who were pretending to be the kings of the world. Sı¯ta¯ wonders who they could be and goes to the battlefield to discover the dead heroes are Ra¯ma and Laksfi manfi a. A saddened Sı¯ta¯


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tells the boys they have killed their father and uncle, and runs to Va¯lmı¯ki for help. Va¯lmı¯ki recognizes the tragedy and with his magical power brings the dead heroes and their army back to life. Ra¯ma realizes that the heroic boys are his own sons and that Sı¯ta¯ is still alive. He wants the boys and Sı¯ta¯ to be reunited with him, but the boys adamantly refuse and declare that Sı¯ta¯ is not going either. They demand that Ra¯ma apologize for his treatment of Sı¯ta¯ and bow down to them seeking forgiveness. Sı¯ta¯ and Va¯lmı¯ki, and all those gathered, advise the boys to show respect for their father, but the boys do not listen. They reject the advice even of Va¯lmı¯ki because, after all, he wrote the Ra¯ma¯yana favoring Ra¯ma. The point of the story is clear. Sı¯ta¯ as a wife has no proper way of opposing her husband, whereas her sons can fight for her and can be as critical as necessary to condemn their father for all his faults while protecting their mother from being victimized. Sı¯ta¯ retains her status as a good wife by standing outside the conflict while her sons fight for her and say all the harsh words against Ra¯ma—which Sı¯ta¯ may have wished to say herself, but could not as a proper wife. Another story that comes from women’s songs and represents Sı¯ta¯ in a different light is “S´u¯rpanakha¯’s Revenge.”24 S´u¯rpanakha¯, angry that her brother Ra¯vanfi a died at Ra¯ma’s hands, wants to avenge his death. She goes to Sı¯ta¯ dressed as a religious mendicant and asks her to draw Ra¯vanfi a’s picture. Sı¯ta¯ protests that she has never set eyes on that man’s face; she has only seen his toes. S´u¯rpanakha¯ persuades Sı¯ta¯ to draw a picture of Ra¯vanfi a’s big toe. S´u¯rpanakha¯ then completes the picture herself and gives life to the picture. She leaves the picture in Sı¯ta¯’s possession and abruptly leaves. Sı¯ta¯, who is stuck with the picture, tries to get rid of it, by throwing it into the well behind her house, but the picture returns to her. She tries to destroy the picture, tear it, burn it, bury it. No matter what she does, the picture comes back to her. It just won’t leave her. Desperate, Sı¯ta¯ hides the picture under her bed and lies on top of it. Ra¯ma, who comes to bed at night, feels the pressure of the picture from under his side of the bed. Even before he begins to wonder what is pushing him, the picture pushes Ra¯ma off the bed. Ra¯ma is furious with Sı¯ta¯ for pushing him off, but when he sees the picture, he is firmly convinced that Sı¯ta¯ is in love with Ra¯vanfi a. This is the most innovative reason women’s songs find for the banishment of Sı¯ta¯ to the forest. These songs mention neither the people’s suspicion of Sı¯ta¯’s chastity due to her living in Ra¯vanfi a’s Lan˙ka¯ nor the people’s disapproval of Ra¯ma’s decision to accept her as his loyal wife. Such an emphasis on Ra¯ma’s suspicion of his wife rather than his sense of duty to his people clearly isolates Ra¯ma as the person to be blamed. If the men’s version saw Ra¯ma as a tragic character, torn between his duties as king and his desires as a husband, this women’s song views him as a suspicious husband and therefore a flawed man. Significantly, the song does not make any effort to hide the eroticism in the narration of the story. The big toe, the bed, lying right on top of Ra¯vanfi a’s picture—the entire narrative texture of the song is quietly permeated with erotic suggestions that subvert the narrative structure, which ostensibly defends Sı¯ta¯’s pa¯tivra¯tya. The images of the story playfully suggest a hidden sexual desire on the part of Sı¯ta¯ for Ra¯vanfi a, which, very much like

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the hidden picture under the bed, is never out in the open. The traditional representations of Sı¯ta¯ are rarely erotic—we hear of her chastity, nobility, her suffering, and her motherly love, but we usually do not hear much about her sexuality. The erotic descriptions in this song are mild, too, and that is as far as the singers of the song can go, while carefully protecting Sı¯ta¯’s honor as a chaste wife. Anything more radical would cause Sı¯ta¯ to lose her status as a pativrata¯, and as I suggest, her identity as Sı¯ta¯. There is a tradition at weddings in Andhra whereby the family of the bride praises the virtues of their daughter while putting down the groom. This discourse, popularized in women’s wedding songs, takes the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a theme as a metaphor. In these songs, Ra¯ma is depicted as a hard-hearted, tricky, and deceptive husband and Sı¯ta¯ is extolled as an innocent, trusting, and virtuous woman. During weddings, the bride’s family often sings songs with this theme to celebrate the good qualities of the bride’s family while playfully denigrating the negative qualities of the groom’s family. The bride’s family may even claim that whatever good fortune the groom has acquired is due to his luck in choosing their daughter as his wife. A popular song by Tya¯gara¯ja uses this theme and suggests that Ra¯ma would not have been so great a king, nor would he have been famous if he had not married Sı¯ta¯: You chose our Sı¯ta¯ for your wife, and now you are king of kings And on top of that you have the fame of slaying the demon Ra¯vanfi a. Because you chose our Sı¯ta¯ for your wife She obediently followed you to the forest, took a false form, stayed by the fire for real, followed the demon, lived under the As´oka tree in his garden. She was furious at his words, but did not kill him right away. She wanted you to get the fame of killing the mighty Ra¯vanfi a. Lord of Tya¯gara¯ja, Because you chose our Sı¯ta¯ for your wife.25

Sı¯ta¯ in the Twentieth Century The narrative changes even more radically in the hands of the authors of modern anti-Ra¯ma¯yanfi as. Gudipati Venkatachalam, popularly known as Chalam, is a great writer to whom Telugu literature owes a whole new language of sexuality, especially female sexuality. Among the several plays he wrote questioning religious/mythological narratives that preach female chastity, his Sı¯ta¯ Agnipraves´am (Sı¯ta¯ enters fire), is the most well known.26 The play presents Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯ for the first time as human beings similar to us, rather than as distant and divine characters beyond ordinary human accessibility. They speak ordinary spoken Telugu as opposed to the Sanskritized high literary style of classical texts. Hearing Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯ speak like man and wife, like our next-door neighbors, brings them into an emotional world we all inhabit. The play focuses on the events in Lan˙ka¯ immediately after Ra¯vanfi a’s defeat and death. A


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rejoicing Sı¯ta¯ welcomes Ra¯ma and invites him to embrace her, but Ra¯ma expresses his unwillingness to accept Sı¯ta¯ because she has lived in another man’s house for many years. Sı¯ta¯ responds sharply that it was not her choice; she was in captivity. Ra¯ma argues that it does not make a difference, and that as a heroic descendent of the Raghu family he fought to protect his honor and destroyed Ra¯vanfi a; he cannot bring dishonor to it by accepting a woman who was touched by another man. Sı¯ta¯ protests: Let me speak. Ravana loved me. Even your sharp arrows could not kill his love for me. Your love, it was gone the moment you suspected that another man might have loved me. . . . Did I love him in return? That’s what you fear, don’t you? If I had loved him, I would have covered his body with mine as a shield against your arrows. Did he molest me? No, he was too noble a person for that. He loved me, even when he knew I would never love him in return. . . . I feel sorry I did not return his love. I shall pay the price for it now. I shall purify my body, which was soiled when I uttered your wretched name, by the flames of fire which touched his blood-stained limbs. You, Rama, reject me because you fear that my body was defiled by his touch, though you know my heart is pure. This antigod wanted my heart, even though he knew my body was taken by you. Some day, intelligent people will know who was a nobler lover.27 Sı¯ta¯ then throws herself into the funeral pyre burning Ra¯vanfi a’s body instead of walking through the fire Ra¯ma has set for her to prove her chastity. The passage could be interpreted in two ways: Sı¯ta¯ performs a type of satı¯ by throwing herself into Ra¯vanfi a’s funeral pyre, which simultaneously marks her as his wife in death. Or, she regrets not having loved Ra¯vanfi a in return and wants to purify herself of that flaw by throwing herself into his funeral pyre.28 In either case, the limits clearly are crossed. This character is not the chaste wife of Ra¯ma anymore. The story of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a is stretched beyond recognition. The following poem by the Telugu modern poet Pathabhi, a contemporary of Chalam, and a rebel in modern poetry, is in the same vein. Sita was my classmate. She and I pored over that great new poem the Ramayana of Satyanarayana. When we were finished I asked her, looking at her thoughtful eyes: “You listened to the whole story. We followed Rama with the swiftness of poetry into the wilderness of ancient time. We met him, went to the forest with him; we saw him

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kill Vali from behind the tree and test his wife by fire. Now tell me, do you really want to live like Sita, the wife of the hero Rama?” When she heard me, she said: “Hey, Pathabhi, Sita is the very epitome of Indian womanhood. It’s a dream, having the good fortune to live like her. “But even if I should want to be Sita, I would never want to be Rama’s wife. Tell me, would you ever want to be Rama yourself ?” “Why would I, when you don’t want to be Rama’s wife? My desire, rather, is to become Ravana. “With all my ten mouths I will kiss your lips, your face. I will bind you with the gaze of my twenty eyes. I will press you to my chest with twenty strong arms and make you one with me in one embrace.” Now, Sita is my wife.29 Breaking all taboos about Sı¯ta¯ being forever devoted to Ra¯ma, the poem introduces new nuances in the imagined relationship between Sı¯ta¯ and Ra¯vanfi a. Sı¯ta¯, in this poem, wants to be like the Sı¯ta¯ of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a because of the latter’s honesty and love for her husband. But the husband she wants is not Ra¯ma. And the man in the poem also vehemently rejects identifying with Ra¯ma, and chooses to be Ra¯vanfi a instead, with all the erotic excitement that comes with that choice. Both characters in this poem reject Ra¯ma and, in effect, reject Sı¯ta¯ too, and create a new Sı¯ta¯ outside the parameters of Va¯lmı¯ki’s narrative. The new Sı¯ta¯ says: Sita is the very epitome of Indian womanhood. It’s a dream, having the good fortune to live like her.


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Clearly, she is choosing the good name of Sı¯ta¯ and the honor that comes with the status of a pativrata¯. She follows this with a rejection of Ra¯ma, meaning that she only wants the honor and not the suffering that goes with this choice. By definition, Sı¯ta¯ is Ra¯ma’s wife. She has no existence without Ra¯ma in Va¯lmı¯ki’s world. Once Ra¯ma is rejected, there can be no Sı¯ta¯. Therefore, the new Sı¯ta¯ who marries Ra¯vanfi a is not a pativrata¯, even assuming that she is faithful to Ra¯vanfi a. Chalam and Pathabhi were writing at a time when a modernist trend in Telugu literature created an atmosphere of a critical rejection of religion and tradition. This trend was, however, limited to the English-educated middle class, which enjoyed a certain degree of latitude and therefore freely exercised its liberal ideas in literature. At present, a conservative and revivalist movement is growing strong, with a goal to reverse the trend started in the early decades of the twentieth century of modernist anti-Ra¯ma¯yanfi as. In January 2000, Andhra Jyoti, a popular Telugu weekly magazine, received a long story, Ra4 van4 a Josyam (Ra¯vanfi a’s prophesy) by D. R. Indra, a relatively unknown writer, and the journal decided to publish it in three parts. The first part of the story apparently angered some people. The magazine received a letter that threatened dire consequences should it continue publishing the story. Namini Subramanyam Naidu, the editor of the weekly magazine, refused to be intimidated, and went ahead with the publication of the second part of the story. In response, nearly a hundred men and women, all self-proclaimed members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), forced their way into Namini’s office on the afternoon of January 25, showered him with obscenities, rampaged through his office, and threatened him with physical harm. A staff member who came to his rescue was reported to have been physically assaulted. Cowed by the threats and vandalism, the editorial management of Andhra Jyoti withdrew the publication of the third part of the story, and published an apology for “unintentionally hurting [readers’] sentiments.” I will not discuss the issues related to the freedom of the press and civil liberties that arise from this incident, which should be obvious and which in fact led to a wide-scale protest by intellectuals, poets, and writers against the perpetrators of this incident and against the magazine management, which had yielded to the pressure of the conservative thugs. My interest here is to focus on the representation of Sı¯ta¯ and Ra¯ma in the story. To summarize the relevant portion of the story: Sı¯ta¯ and Ra¯vanfi a take long strolls in the As´oka garden. They enjoy talking to each other; Sı¯ta¯ admits that while she was rattled when she was first kidnapped, she does not find Ra¯vanfi a half as demonic as people say he is. She listens to him boast of how he has seduced or raped hundreds of the most beautiful women of the gods. But in the case of Sı¯ta¯, he has fallen in love and will patiently wait until she herself loves him in return. Sı¯ta¯ rejects him and spurns his vanity, but she also realizes that Ra¯ma is no better; he is just as vain, boastful, and cruel, and is as lustful a womanizer as Ra¯vanfi a is. She finds

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no great choice between them. The only benefit she finds in her captivity is that ever since she has been brought to the As´oka garden, she finds new freedom and peace—away from the pressures of the palace and the forest, released from the tensions of being a wife and the burden of having to be a pativrata¯. She finds this freedom to be herself more enjoyable than any glory or greatness in the world. Meanwhile, Ra¯ma attacks Ra¯vanfi a. Mortally wounded in the battle, Ra¯vanfi a comes to Sı¯ta¯ with his last wish—to hear from Sı¯ta¯’s lips that she loves him. Sı¯ta¯ consoles him in her lap, and assures him that she loves him as her son. Ra¯vanfi a dies in her lap. Soon, Ra¯ma arrives and expresses his suspicion of her chastity. Ra¯ma asks her to prove herself by walking through fire. In front of her is a blazing fire ignited by Laksfi manfi a for her to walk through to prove she is chaste. She approaches the fire, takes off her wedding necklace, ma¯ngalya, throws it into the fire and walks away. A couple of decades ago, this story would probably have received critical acclaim from the modernist critics of the traditional Ra¯ma¯yanfi a narrative, and quiet disdain from the devotees of Ra¯ma, as Chalam’s play and Pathabhi’s poem received in the 1930s. That it generated a more violent protest in 2000 is due to the activist nature of militant Hindu groups and the general deterioration of political discourse. The point, however, is clear. The Sı¯ta¯ represented in this story as well as in Chalam’s play and in Pathabhi’s poem is not the same character as is presented in Va¯lmı¯ki’s text and that of his followers. She is a distorted Sı¯ta¯, an anti-Sı¯ta¯. The crucial boundary that makes her Sı¯ta¯ is her loyalty to Ra¯ma and the moral power that comes from it. Once she has crossed that boundary, even with the symbolic act of throwing her wedding necklace into the fire, she is no longer Sı¯ta¯. Why, then, have authors in the twentieth century deliberately changed the well-understood traits of a character so deeply embedded in the popular mind? Why do these authors feel the need to rewrite the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a by violating its narrative grammar? Part of the answer is in the obvious modernist artistic impulse of reworking classical themes with individual imagination unfettered by conventions. The answer to these questions perhaps also lies in the unprecedented importance the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a has received in the nationalistic imagination. The Gandhian use of Ra¯ma¯yanfi a metaphors such as Ramarajya for the ideal of independent India and the nationalist fervor of presenting Indian women as the symbol of purity and passive resistance, suffering for a noble cause, presented Sı¯ta¯ as the supreme role model for all Indian womanhood. Due to its vast popularity, the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a is mistaken for an epic that represents the entire range of value systems in India. An attempt to make the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a and its heroine Sı¯ta¯ stand for a variety of cultural role models apparently has not led to a uniformity of national values; on the contrary, it has led to a masking of complexity. We now have a superficial uniformity that hides the contours of this complexity. Sı¯ta¯ now appears in a variety of roles not available to her as the heroine of Va¯lmı¯ki’s text. In effect, a number of heroines are now called Sı¯ta¯, while


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retaining at the same time the special features the heroines portray in the narratives of their particular culture. This, I would believe, partly explains the multiplicity of Ra¯ma¯yanfi a narratives that differ from the Va¯lmı¯ki narrative among the modern Ra¯ma¯yanfi as and the variety of comments on the role of Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯, such as the ones we encounter in Madhu Kishwar’s study.30

An Ecology of Indian Narratives This would lead us into a survey of the types of heroines in Indian narratives, a task too big to attempt in the space of this essay. I would still ask if there are compelling and significant representations of women other than Sı¯ta¯, depicted positively in literature. At the expense of being simplistic, I want to place the major Sanskrit narratives in the context of the broad cultural systems of India: agricultural, pastoral, and mercantile. In this classification, the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a belongs to the agricultural, the Maha¯bha¯rata to the pastoral, and the narratives of the Katha¯ tradition to the mercantile cultures. I would suggest that each of these narratives reflects distinctly different types of value systems and different types of heroes and heroines. Land is significantly different from other forms of property that are movable, such as gold, material goods, or marketable skills. In times of crisis, other kinds of property can be taken to a safer place. Land is immobile; you cannot put it in your pocket and walk away with it. The only way of protecting it is to fight for it. A hero in this value system is one who fights to protect the land and dies fighting. He does not negotiate a settlement, a compromise, or a politically acceptable deal; he wants all or nothing. Castes that primarily share the landed culture equate women with their land; own them as they own their land, restrict their movement, control their sexuality, and deny them remarriage. Loyalty to one man (pa¯tivra¯tya), which is generally perceived as a value for all women in India, is primarily a landed-caste value. Landed culture values certain qualities in men, such as the willingness to protect their women. A woman herself is not allowed to fight for her own safety. She should wait for her man to save her. Indian history, literature, and folklore related to the landed castes are littered with stories of women who die voluntarily when their men are unable to save them. Death is preferable to falling in the hands of the enemy. A woman who falls into captivity is considered truly “fallen.” A permanent stigma attaches to her character because people assume she may, either willingly or by force, have sexual relations with her captor. The biological and therefore uncontrollable condition of life that women become pregnant and give birth to children makes them vulnerable to conquest, just like the land, and for that reason, it makes their constancy a matter of anxiety and suspicion. Chaste women are given miraculous powers in legends and myths: men who threaten their chastity can be cursed to death by chaste women. The same women, however, cannot curse men who threaten their lives. Chastity for a woman in this culture is more important than life itself. In a landed culture, the inheritance of land is strictly limited to the authentic male heirs

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of the owner, and legitimacy of children is assured only by a strict control of women’s sexual behavior. As might be seen in Din ˜ gna¯ga’s narrative, Ra¯ma declares his son Lava king as soon as it is made publicly clear that Sı¯ta¯ is chaste. The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a is a narrative that reflects the ideals and cultural ideologies of landed communities, but not all Indian communities. Communities that live on trade and manufacturing skills, on the other hand, are not tied to the land and are generally mobile. People with such skills are capable of migration and of developing a new livelihood in a new place. Manufacturing is also very different from growing food. Craftsmen create a new reality different from the reality of nature. Food growers, who have a sense of dependence on nature to produce their world, often marvel at the skill of the “makers.” At the same time, they are also suspicious of their craft, which they see as crafty, untrustworthy. The stories and epics of trading communities stand in sharp contrast to the landed-caste stories. In Sanskrit, there is a huge body of Katha¯ literature, from the legendary Brfihat-katha¯ to the extant Katha¯sarit-sa¯gara and the Brfihat-katha¯-s´loka-sam ˙ graha. The hundreds of such stories, generally interpreted as collections of erotic stories, reflect the cultural ideology of mercantile communities. Women in these stories are intelligent, capable of protecting themselves, and have control of their lives without total dependence on their men. They are clever, cunning, and are celebrated not so much for their chastity as for their skill in having affairs without being caught. The theme of the clever adulteress in the narratives of the Katha¯ tradition, such as S´uka-saptatı¯, is too well known to need repetition. The ideal woman in this culture is the heroine of the “Red Lotus of Chastity,” who cleverly protects herself from the mischievous advances of men in the absence of her husband while at the same time safeguarding her husband from the allure of other women. Chastity and fidelity to the husband are still important for a woman in this culture, but she is not bound to depend on her husband to save her, nor is she bound to prove that she is a pativrata¯. The heroine in this story takes initiative, plans her future, and manages to achieve a triumphant end to her plans. Furthermore, heroes in the narratives of the mercantile classes use cunning and trickery to achieve their goal—as opposed to the heroes in the narratives of landed culture, who prefer battle as their first choice. Heroism in the narratives of mercantile classes consists of gaining success and living happily afterward, rather than opting for a foolhardy rush to battle and death in order to gain vı¯rasvarga—the hero’s heaven. A mercantile hero is intelligent, just, and capable of judiciously resolving conflicts, such as King Vikrama¯n˙ka in the Veta¯la-pan˜cavim ˙ s´ati stories.31 A similar value system is found in the literatures of other Indian languages, which have a number of epic narratives that reflect the values of pastoral culture. Pastoral communities have a functional interest in land, which they need to graze their cattle. They do seek to control the land, but do not care who actually owns it. Pastoral stories celebrate heroism but do not value death on the battlefield as superior to success in gaining power over the enemy by cunning. The heroes and heroines of pastoral epics reflect characteristics very different from the epics of the land owning class. To represent the Ma-


velcheru narayana rao

ha¯bha¯rata as a pastoral epic would drastically reduce its complexity, but it should be clear that none of the women in the Maha¯bha¯rata resembles Sı¯ta¯ in her relentless pursuit of fidelity to and dependence on her husband. Apart from the well-known Draupadı¯, who has five husbands and is an extremely strong woman who takes control of any situation she is in, women such as Damayantı¯ and Sa¯vitrı¯ demonstrate a characteristic agency, an ability to take initiative to resolve a problem, rather than wait for their husbands to come and save them. They are no less pativrata¯s for the strength and independence they demonstrate, but they are not Sı¯ta¯s either. It is easier to see the features of a pastoral culture in oral epics such as Ca¯nda¯inı¯, Devna¯ra¯yan, and Katamaraju katha¯.32 Since landed culture is socially dominant to the extent of projecting itself as the only culture of the country, nonlanded values get short shrift as low castes are treated as less respectable. Modern scholars tend to class these narratives as folklore, while in Sanskrit literary tradition themes borrowed from Katha¯ sarit-sa¯gara do not have the same high status as those borrowed from the itiha¯sa. Pressured by the dominant landed culture, nonlanded communities tend to borrow cultural practices from landed communities in order to present themselves as respectable. In south India, a large number of castes of nonlanded cultures are classified as left-hand castes, among whom women follow a lifestyle more relaxed than landed culture would sanction. Women of these communities remarry and maintain a certain degree of economic and personal independence. Such groups tend to be socially invisible, and their stories and cultural tradition is lost to scholarship.33 One significant feature of Indian narrative is retelling. Stories and themes from major narrative traditions have been told—again and again—for centuries. As a result, characters of these narratives take on a life of their own, away from authorial controls, and become as familiar as your next-door neighbors. Poets and writers and tellers and performers enjoy a wide degree of freedom in depicting these well-known characters. At the same time, there are restrictions to this freedom. We know a lot about the variations in the telling of these stories, and the freedom the tellers take. What is not well understood is that there are limits to this freedom. The limits, I suggest, are best understood by exploring the underlying cultural grammar of these narrative traditions. notes 1.

bhidyata¯m bhaksfiyata¯m va¯pi s´arı¯ram visrfija¯myaham / naca¯pyaham ciram duhfi kham sahyeam priyavarjita¯ // caranfi ena¯pi savyena na sprfiseyam nis´a¯caram / ra¯vanfi am kim punar aham ka¯mayeyam vigarhitam // chinna¯ bhinna¯ vibhakta¯ va¯ dı¯ptevagnau pradipita¯ / ra¯vanfi am nopatisfifiteyam kim prala¯pena vas ciram // (Sundaraka¯nfi dfi a 24.8, 9, 11)

when does sı¯ta¯ cease to be sı¯ta¯ ?


2. tato nihatana¯tha¯na¯m raksfiası¯na¯m grfihe grfihe / yatha¯’hamevam rudatı¯ tatha¯ bhuyo nasams´ayahfi / anvisfiya raksfiasa¯m lan˙ka¯m kurya¯d ra¯mahfi salaksfimanfi ahfi // (Ibid. 24.23) 3. tava satvam balam ˙ caiva vija¯na¯mi maha¯kape / va¯yoriva gatim ˙ a¯pi tejasca¯gneriva¯dbhutam // (Ibid. 35.42) ja¯na¯mi gamane ´saktim nayane ca¯pi te mama / avas´yam sampradharya¯´su ka¯ryasiddhir iha¯tmanahfi // (Ibid. 35.42, 44) 4. Ibid. 35.64–68. 5. Sunda4 raka¯nfi dfi a, 36.36, 39, 40, 43. 6. Ibid. 36.45–46, 48. 7. Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a 41.26. 8. Ibid. 42.4–6. 9. Ibid. 42.13. 10. Ibid. 42.17–19. 11. Ibid. 44.5–9. 12. Ibid. 44.11–12. 13. Ibid. 88.10. 14. Kundama¯la¯, act 1. 15. Ibid., act 2. 16. Ibid., act 1. 17. Ibid., act 2. 18. Ibid., act 5. 19. Ibid., act 2. 20. Bhavabhu¯ti, Uttarara¯macarita, Act 7. Bhavabhu¯ti devises a play produced by Va¯lmı¯ki within the play. Va¯lmı¯ki invites all gods, antigods, animals, serpents, and all classes of human beings to his play, which presents Sı¯ta¯’s story following her abandonment, as follows. A distressed Sı¯ta¯ tries to kill herself by drowning in the Ganges River. The goddesses Gan˙ga¯ and Earth dramatically rescue her and present her with the twins she has given birth to in the water. Following their birth, the Jrfimbhaka weapons manifest themselves to serve the boys. Earlier, when Sı¯ta¯ was pregnant and was still with Ra¯ma in Ayodhya¯, Ra¯ma had declared that these weapons would one day belong to his sons. True to his utterance, the weapons promptly appear upon their birth. This act serves as a divine DNA test which proves that the twins are Ra¯ma’s legitimate sons. Toward the end of the play, Arundhatı¯ testifies to the purity of Sı¯ta¯ in front all the people assembled, and thus Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta are reunited. 21. Kundama¯la¯, act 6. 22. Ibid. 23. See Gopalakrishnamurti 1955, pp. 256–262. I discussed this story in my essay “A Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Their Own: Women’s Oral Tradition in Telugu” (1991). Here I extensively adopt from that discussion. 24. Narayana Rao 1991, pp. 126, 130. ¯ di 25. Tya¯gara¯ja, Ma¯ ja¯naki ce¯fitfita batfifitaga mahara¯juvaitivi. Ra¯ga Ka¯mbhoji, A ta¯la. Madhu Kishwar, in her article “Yes to Sita, No to Ram” (2001), argues that people believe that Ra¯ma was wrong to abandon Sı¯ta¯ in the forest while she was


velcheru narayana rao

pregnant, whereas Sı¯ta¯, on the other hand, lived up to the expectations of Indian womanhood suffering silently without saying one harsh word against Ra¯ma. She presents evidence from her fieldwork among a number of people from different classes, castes, and occupations in favor of this position. But the value system of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a is not that simple. 26. Venkata Chalam [1934] 1976. 27. Ibid. Following Telugu usage, diacritical marks have been omitted. The discussion here is adopted from my essay “The Politics of Telugu Ra¯ma¯yanfi as” (2001). 28. I am indebted to Paula Richman for this interpretation. 29. Pathabhi 2002. 30. See note 25. 31. J.A.B. van Buitenen drew our attention to these stories as early as 1959 in his introduction to Tales of Ancient India. 32. For summaries of these epics see Blackburn et al. 1989, and for a study of the Ca¯nda¯inı¯ epic, see Flueckiger 1989. 33. See my “Tricking the Goddess” (1989), and “Epics and Ideologies (1986), where I discuss the narratives of left-hand castes.

references Bhavabhu¯ti. 1990. Uttarara¯macarita. Edited by R. S. Tripathi. Varanasi: Krishnadas Academy. Blackburn, Stuart, et al. 1989. Oral Epics in India. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Din¯gna¯ga. 1983. Kundama¯la¯. Edited by Jagdish Lal Shastri. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. Flueckiger, Joyce Burkhalter. 1989. “Caste and Regional Variants in an Oral Epic Tradition.” In Oral Epics in India, edited by Stuart Blackburn et al. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, pp. 33–54. Gopalakrishnamurti, Sripada (“Krishna Sri”), ed. 1955. Strı¯la Ra¯ma¯yanfi apu Pa¯talu. Hyderabad: Andhra Sarsvata Parishattu. Kishwar, Madhu. 2001. “Yes to Sita, No to Ram.” In Questioning Ra¯ma¯yanfi as: A South Asian Tradition, edited by Paula Richman. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, pp. 285–308. Narayana Rao, Velcheru. 1986. “Epics and Ideologies: Six Telugu Folk Epics.” In Another Harmony: New Essays in the Folklore of India, edited by Stuart Blackburn et al. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. ———. 1989. “Tricking the Goddess: Cowherd Katamaraju and Goddess Ganga in the Telugu Folk Epic.” In Criminal Gods and Demon Devotees: Essays on the Guardians of Popular Hinduism, edited by Alf, Hiltebeitel. Albany: State University of New York Press, pp. 131–164. ———. 1991. “A Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Their Own: Women’s Oral Tradition in Telugu.” In Many Ramayanas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia, edited by Paula Richman. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, pp. 114– 136. ———. 2001. “The Politics of Telugu Ra¯ma¯yanfi as: Colonialism, Print Culture, and Literary Movements.” In Questioning Ra¯ma¯yanfi as: A South Asian Tradition, edited by Paula Richman. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. pp. 159–185.

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Pathabhi. 2002. “Sita.” In Twentieth Century Telugu Poetry: An Anthology, edited by Velcheru Marayann Rao. Delhi: Oxford University Press, pp. 70–71. Richman, Paula, ed. 1991. Many Ramayanas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. ———. 2001. Questioning Ra¯ma¯yanfi as: A South Asian Tradition. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. 1960–. Edited by J. M. Mehta et al. Critical ed. Baroda: Oriental Institute. Van Buitenen, J.A.B. 1959. Tales of Ancient India. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Venkata Chalam, Gudipati. 1976. Sita Agnipravesam. 3rd ed. Vijayawada: Aruna Publishing House.

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9 Representing the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a on the Ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam Stage Bruce M. Sullivan

In the state of Kerala, south India, dramas have been enacted for centuries in a style known as ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam.1 Composed in Sanskrit and related languages, and enacted by temple servants as a religious obligation, these dramas have traditionally been regarded as sacred by Hindus in Kerala.2 Three of the dramas recount the well-known story of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, but in each case the playwright has conceived innovative ways of presenting the narrative. Performers have contributed additional material and significantly modify the texts of the dramas as they enact them. This essay examines these dramas and the ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam tradition of enactment. Two of the dramas were attributed by T. Ganapati Sastri to Bha¯sa, Pratima¯ Na¯fitaka and Abhisfieka Na¯fitaka, though neither drama ¯ s´caryacu¯dfi a¯manfi i by cites an author’s name.3 The third drama is A ´Saktibhadra, a Kerala playwright, who wrote in the ninth century c.e. All three dramas present the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a story in full, though in different ways. As the story is well known, I shall emphasize the innovations of the playwrights rather than recounting the dramas in detail. Pratima¯ (The Statue) begins with the failed consecration of Ra¯ma. With Ra¯ma, Sı¯ta¯, and Laksfi manfi a in exile, King Das´aratha dies of grief on stage (act 2). Bharata returns from a stay with his uncle, and stops at a temple with which he is unfamiliar on the outskirts of Ayodhya¯. There he sees statues of his Iksfi va¯ku ancestors, including Das´aratha, thus realizing that his father has died, and hears from the caretaker what has happened (act 3). The drama also includes an interlude beginning act 6 in which the audience learns that Jatfia¯yu has died, and an interlude beginning act 7 in which the audience learns that Ra¯vanfi a has died. The only suggestion of Sı¯ta¯’s


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trial is mentioned by the queens to Sı¯ta¯ of “the fulfillment of your vow.” The seven-act drama ends with Ra¯ma’s consecration. Abhisfieka (The Consecration) is a drama in six acts, though performers have made it into seven by taking the interlude beginning act 6 as a separate act. The drama begins with Va¯li dying on stage, shot by Ra¯ma’s arrow, and the alliance between Ra¯ma and Sugrı¯va. In act 4, Ra¯ma reaches the ocean, but rather than showing the building of a bridge so that Ra¯ma and his army can reach Lan˙ka¯, the play shows Varunfi a appearing and dividing the waters so that they can pass. Act 6 begins with an interlude that informs the audience that Ra¯vanfi a is dead. Ra¯ma refuses to see Sı¯ta¯, due to questions of her fidelity, so she undergoes trial by fire. The drama ends with Ra¯ma’s consecration. One remarkable feature of these two dramas is that they include the deaths of characters on stage. In Sanskrit dramas deaths are customarily described after the fact, not shown on stage. There is no prohibition on doing this, because Bharata’s Na¯fitya¯s´a¯tra specifies the means of depicting a character’s death on stage (7.85–90 and 26.101–115), but custom dictates it. In these two dramas the playwright(s) chose to depict the deaths of Das´aratha and Va¯li (though not Ra¯vanfi a) before the eyes of the audience. Another drama sometimes attributed ¯ rubhan˙ga, features Duryodhana dying on stage. U ¯ rubhan˙ga is all to Bha¯sa, U the more remarkable for its radical transformation of Duryodhana into a noble and generous ruler beloved by those around him, one whom the gods convey to heaven in a divine chariot at his death. No such profound shift in a character’s depiction is found in these two Ra¯ma¯yanfi a dramas, nor is either death scene itself a great departure from traditional accounts of the narrative. The playwright, however, has been innovative in Pratima¯ with regard to the statue gallery for which the drama is named. Construction of such a memorial hall is not a feature of Hindu religious traditions, and one can only wonder at the inspiration for it. Might Greek, Roman, or other (Kusfi a¯nfi a?) practices have suggested it to the author? ¯ ´scaryacu¯dfi a¯manfi i (The Wondrous Crest-Jewel) is a drama in seven acts by A ´Saktibhadra of Kerala. It is named for an ornament given to Sı¯ta¯ in the forest, later brought to Ra¯ma as a token of her devotion to him while she is held captive. Ra¯ma also received a ring in the forest, which was carried to her. Both ornaments in this drama have a special quality that the playwright has conceived: each enables the one who wears it, on touching a demon, to restore that demon to its original form so as not to be deceived by its capacity for illusion. In act 2, Ra¯ma touches Ma¯rı¯ca and learns his true identity, then kills the demon. In act 4, Sı¯ta¯ has been taken into Ra¯vanfi a’s chariot while he is disguised as Ra¯ma, but when he touches her he reverts to his true form and is recognized as a demon. In act 7 of the drama, after the audience learns of the death of Ra¯vanfi a in an interlude, Laksfi manfi a suggests that Sı¯ta¯ be tested to answer the questions that people have about her fidelity. Sı¯ta¯ enters the fire, but celestial voices announce that Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯ are in reality Visfi nfi u and Laksfi mı¯, and that Anasuya¯’s boon in the forest was that Sı¯ta¯ would appear ornamented by anything, even the dust covering her in captivity. In this fashion, all misgivings are put to rest, and the drama ends with Ra¯ma’s consecra-

ra¯ ma¯ yanfi a on the ku¯ tfi iya¯ tfi tfi am stage


tion. Both Anasuya¯’s boon and the powers of the ornaments are complications in the plot deployed by the playwright. These dramas have had a number of functions in Kerala society. Obviously there is an entertainment function to such performances; there is also a religious function, as they are devotional offerings to the deity. In addition, there is also a political function that I shall briefly note before discussing the dramas in more detail. For many centuries, Hindu kings patronized theater construction and ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam performances in Kerala, right up to the termination of the monarchy at independence in 1947. In fact, the Maharaja of Travancore (the southern half of Kerala) was traditionally crowned in conjunction with the dramatic representation of the coronation of Ra¯ma on the stage of the capital’s temple.4 As indicated above, each of these three Ra¯ma¯yanfi a dramas ends with the coronation of Ra¯ma, and the three were sometimes performed in succession as a year-long celebration of Ra¯ma. Abhisfieka seems to have been the drama of choice for this political function, as it ends with Ra¯ma consecrated for kingship by Agni and acclaimed by all the gods. The bharatava¯kya or benediction at the drama’s end is as follows: May the cattle be faultless, and may our lion-like king, subduing the sovereignty of his foes, rule over the earth in its entirety. This auspicious proclamation by the playwright applies to both Ra¯ma and his human counterpart who is being installed as the new maharaja. The enactment of Ra¯ma’s consecration for kingship actualizes the structural hom*ology of king and deity. There is, of course, a long history of evoking imagery from the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a and the Maha¯bha¯rata to build a sense of community and national identity among Hindus. Ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam is a tradition, from ancient times into the twentieth century, in which drama has promoted the sovereignty of kings who have claimed an affinity with God. Ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam is Sanskrit theater, that is, the texts of the dramas that serve as scripts are in Sanskrit and related Prakrit dialects. But performers also utilize other languages in representing on the stage the ancient stories they enact, including the vernacular Malayalam or a creole of Sanskrit and Malayalam (Manfi i-prava¯lam, “jewel and coral”) in certain circ*mstances. In addition, an elaborate language of gesture, and of course music, are also used.5 Ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam is a distinctive adaptation of Sanskrit drama enactment to Kerala’s environment; the very name of the tradition is not in Sanskrit but the local vernacular of Malayalam. Ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam means “acting together.” This is actually somewhat deceptive, as often there is only one performer on the stage, even if that person enacts multiple characters. Performance time is greatly lengthened by a variety of means in ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam. Interpolated commentary, particularly by the vidusfiaka (jester), is a typical feature; as these three dramas do not have a vidusfiaka, they do not provide an occasion for his discourse. In every drama, each line recited is repeated several times and enacted in pantomime in an intricate language of gesture. Hand


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positions and facial expressions, particularly eye movements, communicate the meaning of a line nonverbally. Another convention of performance that greatly lengthens the time needed is that the entrance of a character on stage is deemed to require a description of that character’s prior deeds that bring him or her to this point. Accomplished via flashback (nirvahanfi a), the account usually takes hours, and is one of the primary vehicles for the introduction of verses composed by the performers or borrowed from other sources, these verses being either recited or gestured. The Sanskrit text is thus elaborated upon extensively for the purpose of bringing out the emotional quality (rasa) inherent in the situation and the words. The tradition of enacting Sanskrit dramas in Kerala is ancient, with a history of a millennium or more in a form similar to what one sees now.6 Chapter 28 of the Tamil classic Cilappatika¯ram (perhaps third century c.e.) makes reference to a performance at court by Parayur Kuttacca¯kkaiyan, in whom some see a ca¯kya¯r performing drama.7 Ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam has not been static and unchanging but, as with any living tradition, has adapted to developments in its society. Although many such changes in the tradition can only be guessed at, some are known; for example, its shift from performing in the royal palace to a specially constructed theater building (ku¯ttambalam) in each of Kerala’s major Hindu temples, a transition effected by the fourteenth century.8 Performers also made the transition to the temple setting, becoming a ja¯ti or subcaste of temple servants. The actors, known as Ca¯kya¯rs (males) and Nan˙gya¯rs (females), had the exclusive right and religious duty to perform dramas within a temple compound in its theater building.9 The Ca¯kya¯rs are quasibrahmans who ritually take the sacred thread (upanayana) to mark their status, but who learn the drama’s texts instead of the Veda, and stage movements instead of the Vedic rites.10 Ca¯kya¯rs say that they are the descendants of the suta, famous in the Maha¯bha¯rata and Pura¯nfi a literature as half-brahman royal bards. They insist that their performance of ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam dramas is a religious act for them, comparable to doing yoga or praying. For centuries, performance of the dramas has been a regular feature of the ritual calendar at major Hindu temples in Kerala. These dramas have been traditionally performed for an audience of highcaste Hindus, primarily brahmans, temple servants, and royalty.11 Moreover, God is regarded as part of the audience, as well; the theater’s stage faces the temple’s main icon in its adjacent building, and the doors to both are left open during performances. The audience attends a ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam performance in the hope of having an experience both aesthetic and religious, these not being regarded as separate categories. Dramatic enactment, witnessed by a spectator who by reason of his nature and experience is qualified to appreciate the performance, may result in the spectator relishing the rasa intended by the playwright and performers. In the rasa theory, effective enactment of a drama is a precondition that allows an audience member the opportunity to experience that blissful aesthetic appreciation that is rasa. Any one of the nine rasa states may predominate in a drama and be experienced, with other rasa states being present in a subordinate fashion. The ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam performers are aware of the

ra¯ ma¯ yanfi a on the ku¯ tfi iya¯ tfi tfi am stage


figure 9.1. Kutfifitan Ca¯kya¯r (as Hanuma¯n) and A¯mma¯nur Ma¯dhava Ca¯kya¯r (as

Ra¯vanfi a) enact a scene from “Toranfi a Yuddham” (act 3 of Abhiseka Na¯taka) in which Hanuma¯n comes to Lan˙ka¯ with a message for Sı¯ta¯ and confronts Ra¯vanfi a.

rasa theory and its religious overtones.12 Indeed, the religious significance of the dramas traditionally has been emphasized, with devotional moments highlighted in performances; the appearances on stage of deities, and even the mention of them, are occasions for extended enactment of their deeds and qualities. Interestingly, despite the insistence of performers and supporters that ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam complies with the ideals of Bharata’s Na¯fitya¯s´a¯tra, providing audience members with an opportunity for a rasa experience seems not to be foremost in the minds of performers. In a series of interviews I have conducted with major figures in the tradition since 1992, rasa has usually gone unmentioned until I have brought up the issue. Several Ca¯kya¯rs have told me that they perform for the oil lamp at the front of the stage that represents God, not for an audience, if any. They have even stated that if you try to please an audience or if you look at them as you perform, you lose concentration, become yourself again, and cease to be the character you are portraying. Guru Mulikulam Kochuku¯ttan Ca¯kya¯r, presiding teacher at the Margi center, told me that his aim in performing ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam was to lead people onto the path of good conduct through enacting the stories, and to have personal satisfaction from a good performance.13 He stated that at the moment an actor dons the red headband, he begins to transform himself into the character he is to perform hours later on stage, by concentrating and remembering the qualities and deeds of that character. The dressing room is often noisy, people such as myself taking photos and videos of the process, with interruptions for tea, so I asked how an


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actor could stay in character as, for example, Ra¯vanfi a. The guru smiled and said, “Even Ra¯vanfi a may take tea.” But clearly the Na¯fitya¯´sa¯tra envisions performance for an audience, the purpose being to provide an opportunity for audience members to attain the rasa experience. If a ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam actor is performing for God rather than for an audience, what is the point of costume, make-up, and lighting? Or for that matter of the flashback sequences? Surely God does not need to be reminded of Ra¯ma’s prior deeds? The fact that current performers and supporters do not refer often to the rasa theory when discussing their work is all the more surprising, given the recent changes that their tradition has experienced. The social upheaval occasioned by independence a half century ago included the replacement of Kerala’s Hindu monarchy by a democratic government, and the repeated election to power of the Communist Party in Kerala. Their land reforms have eliminated the main source of financial support for Hindu temples in Kerala. Temples now have less ability to support temple servants, and the number of ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam performances in temples has declined; there are more performances outside temples than within their precincts. Four centers of ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam performance and instruction have arisen, including Margi in Kerala’s capital Trivandrum, and in central Kerala the Chachu Ca¯kya¯r Madhom and the state arts institute, Kerala Kalamandalam. These three centers cooperate and compete with one another in an effort to sustain the tradition, and each has received aid from the state and/or central governments for their training programs. Since 1995, a new center for the study and performance of ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam has arisen: S´ree S´an˙kara¯cha¯rya University of Sanskrit in Kalady, central Kerala. Vice Chancellor N. P. Unni has hired several performers of ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam as instructors at the university. All these centers emphasize the aesthetic aspects of ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam and its entertainment value much more than the religious. In light of the secular nature of most performances today, in auditoriums rather than temple theaters and without the ritual activities of temple priests, such an emphasis on the aesthetic dimension of theater rather than the religious is unavoidable. Guru Mulikulam said to me, “Once ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam was done for the deity; now the people have become the deity, and we try to please the people.” This statement highlights the extent to which the tradition is confronted with modernity and change. Performers struggle with making the transition from the ancient traditions of temple ritual (performing for God, not an audience) to the modern situation of entertaining audiences and patrons. Performance style in ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam is best understood through specific examples. The first act of Abhisfieka, known in Kerala as Ba¯livadham, in which Ra¯ma kills Ba¯li (Va¯li) at the behest of his ally Sugrı¯va, includes the following verse from Sugrı¯va praising Ra¯ma: mukto deva tava¯dya ba¯lihrfidayam bhettum fi na me sam fi s´yahfi sa¯lan sapta maha¯vane himagirehfi s´rfin˙gopama¯n s´rı¯dhara / bhitva¯ vegavas´a¯t pravı¯´sya dharanfi ¯ım gatva¯ ca na¯ga¯layam fi majjan vı¯ra payonidhau punarayam fi sampra¯ptava¯n sa¯yakahfi //

ra¯ ma¯ yanfi a on the ku¯ tfi iya¯ tfi tfi am stage


O Lord! You will shoot an arrow today to pierce Va¯li’s heart, no doubt, for in the great forest it split seven sa¯la trees, each a Himlayan peak, O hero, tore through earth and underworld, and after immersing in the sea has returned, S´rı¯dhara.14 Performance of this verse is much more complex than translation of it would seem to indicate.15 Day one is taken up by the Su¯tradha¯ra reciting the invocation and by Ra¯ma’s entrance. Ra¯ma enacts through gesture and movement his meeting with Hanuma¯n and Sugrı¯va, tossing the corpse of Dundubhi, entering Kisfi kindha¯ forest, Sugrı¯va’s comments about seven big sa¯la trees, Ra¯ma’s act of shooting an arrow through all of them to fortify Sugrı¯va’s resolve, then recitation of verse 4 of the drama (Ra¯ma’s lines on entrance). He enacts the meaning by gesture then again recites the lines, and ends the day’s performance with a ritual dance sequence. Day two of the performance is dedicated to Ra¯ma’s flashback. Through gesture and pantomime, while seated on the stage’s wooden stool, he enacts in a retrospective fashion his prior deeds, that is, first the shooting of the arrow through the sa¯la trees, then flinging the body of Dundubhi, then entering into the alliance with Sugrı¯va, and so on. Then he begins to enact the story from the beginning of his exile, including the incidents with S´u¯rpanfi akha¯, defeating the army of her brother Khara and killing him, Ra¯vanfi a’s plot with Ma¯rı¯ca, the abduction of Sı¯ta¯, wounding of Jatfia¯yu and death of Ma¯rı¯ca, and the beginning of his search for Sı¯ta¯. At this point the actor stands up and pantomimes the presence of Laksfi manfi a as they search, and he has half a dozen verses (composed by Ca¯kya¯rs, not the playwright) that he pantomimes, questioning where she could be, finally getting an answer from the dying Jatfia¯yu. Ra¯ma (and the imagined Laksfi manfi a) cremate the body of the vulture. They hear a celestial voice telling them that the vulture has gone to heaven; this is enacted by facial expression and hand gestures, not by speaking. Hanuma¯n is imagined to appear and introduce Ra¯ma to Sugrı¯va, whose verse of praise for Ra¯ma is sung on the stage by a seated female performer. A solemn pact of alliance is made, and Ra¯ma and the imagined companions enter the forest, where he shoots his arrow through the seven sa¯la trees. Finally, Ra¯ma enacts through gesture again the meaning of his entrance verse, then recites the verse accompanied by gestures, and ends the performance of some three hours. Day three of the performance is dedicated to Sugrı¯va’s entrance. Through gesture he enacts the appearance and qualities of Ra¯ma, with emphasis on his act of shooting an arrow through the sa¯la trees. He then recites the lines just prior to the verse above, which state that with Ra¯ma’s help he could conquer heaven, so he is sure that the monkey kingdom will be his. He repeats the lines and enacts them by gesture, then brings out the meaning of his verse above, but without yet reciting it. With a ritual dance sequence his solo performance ends. Day four is Sugrı¯va’s flashback, which includes the birth of Brahma¯ and ultimately reaches the birth of the demons Mandodarı¯ (who will be Ra¯vanfi a’s


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wife) and Dundubhi (whom Ra¯ma will kill despite a boon from Brahma¯). Dundubhi challenges the gods, who send him off to the forest to challenge Ba¯li, who kills him. The seer Matan˙ga curses Ba¯li for dropping some blood on him. The brother of Dundubhi comes to challenge Ba¯li, who enlists the aid of Sugrı¯va in fighting and they defeat the demon, though Sugrı¯va thought Ba¯li dead and assumed kingship. The two monkeys fight and Sugrı¯va flees in fear. His performance for the day ends. Day five brings us at last to true ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam, multiple actors on stage together. Sugrı¯va enters first and recapitulates through gesture and facial expression much of what happened on day four between himself and his brother Ba¯li, including an extensive flashback (nirvahanfi a) about Hanuma¯n and his description of Ra¯ma and Laksfi manfi a, and the alliance. Seeing Ra¯ma lift with one toe and fling the dead body of the demon Dundubhi a great distance, Sugrı¯va gains some confidence in Ra¯ma, but has many doubts (for example, perhaps the demon’s body had shrunk considerably after death). So he enacts showing the sa¯la trees to Ra¯ma, and Sugrı¯va is now ready to progress with his role. He enacts through gesture his line about how with Ra¯ma’s help he can do it, and he recites the verse above. He enacts the meanings of the words by gesture, then recites the verse again, at which point he exits the stage. Actors portraying Ra¯ma, Hanuma¯n, Laksfi manfi a, Ba¯li, and An˙gada all come and go from the small stage in fairly rapid succession to bring to an end the action for the day and the act, with the death of Ba¯li as the climax. This day’s action is fully five hours in its traditional format. It is popular, and has even been enacted on Doordarshan, India’s national television network. I have presented considerable detail for this act in an effort to indicate innovations by the actors to represent the text. Note that on day one Ra¯ma enacts words and psychological states of Hanuma¯n and Sugrı¯va; on day two Ra¯ma conveys actions and words of various demons, a couple of celestial voices, and his brother, in solo performance. Day three includes Sugrı¯va enacting Ra¯ma’s appearance and qualities, while on day four he enacts the encounters of demons with gods and a brahman sage cursing Ba¯li. Day five features all the characters on stage as themselves, but also Sugrı¯va as Hanuma¯n describing Ra¯ma and Laksfi manfi a, and so on. In short, attending a ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam performance presents a challenge of keeping track of who is enacting whom at any given time. ¯ s´caryacu¯dfi a¯manfi i, Another example of enactment is drawn from act 1 of A and features the encounter with S´u¯rpanfi akha¯ in her pleasant form as Lalita¯.16 pratiku¯lamidama¯caritam/yadesfia¯ a¯ca¯ra¯nanucarata¯ tapodhana¯na¯m fi sa¯vajn˜am fi parusfiataram fi mayeksfiita¯pi / savrı¯dfi a¯ vadanamadhahfi karoti kampa¯t uttam fi sapragalitasfiatfipadena mu¯rdhna¯ // Her behavior is contrary to our way of life, for . . . Although I regard her very severely and with disdain, observing the austere conduct of ascetics,

ra¯ ma¯ yanfi a on the ku¯ tfi iya¯ tfi tfi am stage


she bashfully lowers her face, the trembling of her head dislodging the bees from the flowers in her hair. Again, the performance is highly elaborate.17 After the invocation by the Su¯tradha¯ra, the rest of the text’s prologue is skipped and day one begins with Laksfi manfi a’s entrance and his communication through gesture that he is happy. By means of gesture and without reciting, he pantomimes the fifth verse of the drama, describing how he scatters wild animals, prepares the leafy hut, constructs a bed, and thereby has complied with Ra¯ma’s wishes. After some dance movements, the actor goes to the main shrine room of the temple and worships while still in costume, then returns to the dressing room. Day two features Laksfi manfi a’s flashback, again going back in time to the foundation of Ayodhya¯, then forward to the present situation, then he recites verse 5 for the first time while also showing its meaning through gestures. Then he recites the verse silently and enacts building the hut, including even rites for propitiating deities after house construction. He recites verse 6, and the Nan˙gya¯rs recite an interpolated verse indicating entrance of the demoness as Lalita¯. The actor pantomimes the effect of seeing her: he is struck by Ka¯ma’s arrows, trembles with delight, and recites verse 7. All this must occur during daytime. Lalita¯’s formal entrance takes place at night, and begins with her full description of Laksfi manfi a by means of words and gestures. The third day includes her flashback, which takes us all the way back to the origin of the demons and forward to her present situation. On the fourth day Laksfi manfi a and Lalita¯ interact on stage, beginning with his recitation of verse 8 (above). Lalita¯ imitates Laksfi manfi a, showing the meaning of the phrase “very severely and with disdain” and then Laksfi manfi a imitates her, using the phrase “bashfully lowers her face, the trembling of her head dislodging the bees from the flowers in her hair.” They complete their prose lines back and forth and the day’s performance ends. The fifth and sixth days feature Ra¯ma’s entrance, interaction with his brother, and completion of the text through verse 12 and the end of the act. In act 2, S´u¯rpanfi akha¯ returns as Lalita¯ and in the ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam tradition she again has a flashback, reminds the audience how she got to this point (act 1 may not have been enacted), and in the course of her flashback she pantomimes lines from the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Va¯lmı¯ki (3.17 and 3.18) and Raghuvam fi s´a of Ka¯lida¯sa (chapter 12), as well as verse 8 from act 1. In short, she recapitulates her performance in act 1, along the way performing Laksfi manfi a’s lines by gesture. This segment is interesting for the way in which Laksfi manfi a and Lalita¯ portray each other for the audience. She takes a portion of his line and enacts his manner of behaving toward her. Such a performance requires great skill, according to the Ca¯kya¯rs, because the characters are so dissimilar, he being a great hero and she a demoness in disguise as a demure lady. With all such enactments by one character of the qualities and actions of some other character, no change of costume or makeup is included. The actor drops out of character and into another by signaling that shift. For example, when a male


bruce m. sullivan

character is to portray a female, one end of a pleated cloth that is worn around the waist is tucked into the waistband; for a male to portray a demoness, both ends are tucked in. For the depiction of a low character, two ends of the cloth are tied together. Female characters portraying males achieve this effect by movement and stance rather than tucking up portions of their garments, since their costumes are quite different from those worn by males. A demoness such as S´u¯rpanfi akha¯ (when not disguised) is always enacted by male performers. This is due to the view that such roles are too demanding physically, and the evil depicted too intense, to be performed by women, and it may also show the influence of Kerala’s many traditions of Ka¯lı¯ possession. Noteworthy too is the fact that ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam does not put Sı¯ta¯ on stage in act 2, though she should be, according to the text; her lines in the drama’s text are instead sung by the nan˙gya¯rs.18 The Ca¯kya¯rs have obviously added a great deal to the text composed by the playwright, and made other changes too, in their efforts to bring out the rasa fully. A single verse that can be recited in two minutes requires two hours for enactment in ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam because of repetition, use of gesture, and the addition of imagined scenes that are not found in the drama’s text. Yet the verses cited above are by no means unique. They are good examples of the Ca¯kya¯r technique of elaboration and expansion of the received text. One sees a similar approach to every playwright’s work in ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam.19 This mode of enactment, however, has been controversial for centuries. Although those close to the ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam tradition often state that this style of performance is in conformity with the dictates of the Na¯fitya¯s´a¯tra concerning dramaturgy, such an assertion has also been questioned. A critique of ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam called Natfia¯n˙kus´a (“A goad on actors”) was composed in perhaps the fifteenth century.20 The author is unknown, but was intimately familar both with ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam performances and Bharata’s Na¯fitya¯´sa¯tra, and much preferred the latter style. The author criticizes the Ca¯kya¯rs for adding ritual performances during the drama (chapters 1–3), and for other interpolations into the received text of the play that were not intended by the playwright, such as the nirvahanfi a, and the repetition of lines by the actors (chapter 4). All these are regarded as interruptions of the action that deviate from the intention of the playwright, and deviate from the guidelines of the Na¯fitya¯s´a¯tra. One of the most vehement attacks on ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam practices concerns the depiction of one character in the costume and makeup of another, particularly such changes of identity as an actor portraying Hanuma¯n who temporarily enacts Ra¯ma. To the rejoinder that such an enactment shows the great skill of the actor, the critic answers that merely thinking “I am Ra¯ma” on Hanuma¯n’s part does not make it so. To the argument that the gesture language effectively overcomes any perceived problem in the costume or makeup, the critic replies that curdled milk does not become milk again and that this poor design and execution destroys rasa. The convention of tucking part of the costume into the waistband, as is done by Hanuma¯n when he imitates Sı¯ta¯, is singled out for condemnation as an awkward device (chapter 4, part 7). Makeup is regarded as the first clue an audience member has regarding the identity of a character on stage, and to present one

ra¯ ma¯ yanfi a on the ku¯ tfi iya¯ tfi tfi am stage


character imitating another without proper makeup and costume is a jarring deviation from the author’s script, and an unwelcome invention of the actors. Moreover, certain features have been added that have no textual basis, such as ¯ ´scaryacu¯dfi a¯manfi i, where the ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam actors cut the breasts as well in act 2 of A as the ears and nose of S´u¯rpanfi akha¯, something not found in the drama or in Va¯lmı¯ki’s text (4.12); this is regarded as mischief due to the imagination of the actors. The essence of acting, according to this critic, is for an actor to consistently depict the identity of one character. The realization of rasa by audience members is eclipsed by the addition of unconnected incidents, according to the author of Natfia¯n˙kus´a, and actors should perform the dramas as composed by playwrights. An actor in any tradition, of course, is trained to adopt a variety of guises and to depict convincingly an array of identities. In the ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam tradition, however, this ability is cultivated to a degree rarely if ever seen elsewhere. On any given night, an actor may transform himself from his own everyday identity to that of a mythic hero, then into the woman that hero loves, or perhaps the demon the hero fights, and someone else describing that action, then back to the hero; eventually the actor reverts to his own identity. The range of identities adopted on stage by the ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam actor, and the ease with which the shift is accomplished, are astonishing. Only India’s dance traditions such as odissi and bharatana¯fityam entail a similar approach to the enactment of multiple characters by a single performer without change of costume and makeup. Ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam, however, takes the approach much farther. In addition, ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam systematically narrates a story in a nonlinear fashion, as demonstrated above. The nirvahanfi a interpolations in the dramas are somewhat similar to the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a’s and the Maha¯bha¯rata’s own flashback narratives, in which actions performed generations earlier are recounted for the audience. Often the text includes a listener who prompts the reciter to a detailed exposition, so that those hearing the story can appreciate fully the meaning of a character’s actions. These texts have preserved in written form an aspect of their performed recitation before audiences. The technique of embedding a story within a larger narrative is a frequently encountered feature of India’s literary texts, including the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a and the Maha¯bha¯rata. Such nonlinear and embedded narratives are thus not unique to ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam, and occur in the texts for similar reasons, namely, that audiences want to appreciate fully the meaning of the action depicted. The iconic status of ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam as a theater tradition is paralleled by the iconic postures adopted by actors as they represent Ra¯ma and other divine personages on the stage.21 Traditionally, enactments have had religious purposes of profound importance both for audiences and performers.22 ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam’s proponents and performers now tend to see it as emblematic of India’s great culture and a living link to a glorious past, its aesthetic and sociopolitical aspects taking center stage. As a living art form, ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam must, as reflected in the techniques of its own actors, transform itself and reveal new identities. So long as the stories of Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯ remain relevant to Kerala Hindus, ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam may have a role to play.


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notes I am grateful to the Center for International Exchange of Scholars for a Fulbright grant on two occasions that allowed me to do research in Kerala. Thanks especially to N. P. Unni, L. S. Rajagopalan, and Rama Iyer for their help while I lived in Kerala. An earlier version of this essay was presented at the University of British Columbia in June 2001, and benefitted from seminar discussion. 1. Among the best short studies of ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam are Richmond 1990; Tarlekar 1991, Venu 1989, Sullivan 1996 and 1997, and Unni and Sullivan 1995; Farley Richmond’s CD-ROM Ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam (2002) is also very useful. 2. In addition to the three dramas discussed in this essay, the ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam tradition does or did include performance of the following dramas in their entirety or in part: Tapatı¯-Sam fi varanfi a and Subhadra¯-Dhanan˜jaya, both by Kulas´ekhara Varman, a king of Kerala, and based on Maha¯bha¯rata episodes (see Unni and Sullivan 1995; Unni and Sullivan 2001). Other dramas performed are all thirteen dramas sometimes attributed to Bha¯sa (two of which are discussed in this essay), Kalya¯nfi asaugandhika by Nı¯lakanfi fitha, Na¯ga¯nanda by Harsfi a, Bhagavadajjukı¯ya by Bodha¯yana, Mattavila¯sa by Mahendravikrama Pallava, and Abhijn˜a¯nas´akuntala¯ by Ka¯lida¯sa. 3. Evidence for authorship by Bha¯sa is not convincing, nor does any of the dramas name him as author. Performers in the ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam tradition apparently did not attribute them to Bha¯sa prior to Ganapati Sastri’s publication of them as such. I regard these dramas as anonymous, and the time of their composition as unknown. Among the many translations of the dramas attributed to Bha¯sa, see Menon 1996 or Woolner and Sarup [1930] 1985; selected dramas have been translated by Haksar 1993, Gerow 1985, Jones 1984, and Miller 1985. See also the important study by Bru¨ckner (1999–2000) and her Web site: indologie.php?datei⫽projekte/trivandrum fi stuecke. 4. See Unni (1978, pp. 244–248) for more detailed discussion of the royal consecration tradition. 5. Hence I will not use the term “classical” in describing this tradition, for it contains elements that are not envisioned in Bharata’s Na¯fitya¯s´a¯tra, and uses vernacular language as well as Sanskrit/Prakrit. As it involves both solo performance (usually a feature of “classical” traditions) and group performance (usually a feature of “folk” performances), ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam does not fit either pattern; see Blackburn 1998, p. 7; see also de Bruin 1998, pp. 14–16, 34–35. 6. References in the ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam tradition’s performance manuals and commentaries on dramas indicate a long tradition of performance of these dramas. Unni discusses modifications made to certain plays for the Kerala stage; see Unni 1978 and 1992. A critique of the ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam style of performance called Natfia¯n˙kus´a and composed in perhaps the fifteenth century gives many details of ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam performance of that era; see Paulose 1993; and Kunjunni Raja 1987. 7. See Jones 1984, pp. ix–x); Panchal 1984, p. 17; Paulose 1993, p. xi; and Tarlekar 1991, pp. 247–48 and 324. Kunjunni Raja (1964), however, dismisses this as a dance performance that “has nothing to do with the staging of Sanskrit plays.” As de Bruin has written (1998, p. 21), it is often “difficult to identify the genre or style of theatrical performances referred to in historical literature.” Whether this ancient literary account describes drama or not, King Kulas´ekhara Varman and his brahman minister Tolan are credited with reforming the practice of Sanskrit drama enactment in Kerala perhaps about 1100 c.e., not with introducing the practice, indicating that dramas were already being performed at that time.

ra¯ ma¯ yanfi a on the ku¯ tfi iya¯ tfi tfi am stage


8. Paulose 1993, p. xix. 9. Nan˙gya¯rs and their performances are discussed by Daugherty 1996, Panikkar 1992, and Rajagopalan 1997. Ca¯kya¯rs are more extensively discussed; see especially Menon 1996. On the theaters see Jones 1972, 1973, Rajagopalan 1987, and Panchal 1984. 10. Unni 1977 discusses the actors’ rituals. 11. Outcastes, a substantial percentage of Kerala’s population, were excluded from Kerala’s temples for centuries. 12. The rasa concept as developed by the Gosva¯min theologians envisions Krfisfi nfi a as the hero of the ongoing sacred drama and all devotees as performers in that drama. See Haberman 1988, Larson 1976, and Wulff 1986. 13. This and other reports cited are from personal communication in February 1999. 14. Abhisfiekha Na¯fitaka 1.5. The verse can be heard recited by an actor from Kerala Kala¯manfi dfi alam as track 9 on the following CD from Radio France: Inde de Sud: Kutiyattam (Paris: Ocora, 1999). This is a good example of ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam recitation style. The verse is printed as in Venu 1989; the translation is mine. See also Bha¯sa 1913, or Menon 1996, vol. 2. 15. The following summary of performance is from personal observation; see also Venu 1989 for translations of performance manuals on this act. ¯ s´caryacu¯dfi a¯manfi i 1.8. See Jones 1984 for the Sanskrit text; the translation is 16. A mine. The text as printed in Jones substitutes fil for dfi in savrı¯dfi a¯. 17. The following performance summary is largely drawn from translations of performance manuals on this act; see Jones 1984, pp. 104–108. 18. Rajagopalan 1997, p. 19. 19. The one exception is Ka¯lida¯sa; performers seem not to have interpolated ritual and commentary into their performance of Abhijn˜a¯nas´akuntala¯. 20. Paulose 1993 gives the text, translation, and introduction; Kunjunni Raja 1987 has a brief summary. The author of the Natfia¯n˙kus´a rightly points to ways in which the performance of drama in ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam style deviates from the ideals of the Na¯fitya¯´sa¯tra. The deviations are in the elaboration, repetition, and interpolations in the texts, leading to the single act being the unit of performance rather than entire multiact dramas. That authors intended for the drama as a whole to be enacted may be indicated by the fact that they did not name individual acts (as the Ca¯kya¯rs have) and did not give any directions for how to begin enactment with a later act. Conformity with the ideals of the Na¯fitya¯s´a¯tra is primarily in regard to rituals consecrating the theater and the performance, patronage by the king, and the general (if vague) guidelines about costumes, makeup, music, and so on. Perhaps the performance of ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam can best be understood as temple ritual. 21. Stuart Blackburn has written regarding various art forms of south India, “As artistic and religious expressions, these performances have become icons of south India” (1998, p. 1). Although he does not mention ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam explicitly, his comment applies well to this drama tradition. Ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam’s more famous offspring, the dance tradition of kathakali, is often featured in advertisem*nts for Kerala tourism as representative of the region’s culture. 22. See Sullivan 1997 for a detailed discussion.


bruce m. sullivan

references Bha¯sa. 1913. Abhisfiekha Na¯fitaka. Edited by T. G. Sastri. Trivandrum Sanskrit Series 26. Trivandrum: Kerala University Press. ———. 1924. Pratima¯ Na¯fitaka. Edited by T. G. Sastri. Trivandrum: Sridhara Power Press. Blackburn, Stuart. 1998. “Looking across the Contextual Divide: Studying Performance in South India.” South Asia Research 18.1: 1–11. Bru¨ckner, Heidrun. 1999–2000. “Manuscripts and Performance Traditions of the Socalled ‘Trivandrum Plays’ Ascribed to Bha¯sa: A Report on Work in Progress.” Bulletin d’E´tudes Indiennes 17–18: 499–549. Daugherty, Diane. 1996. “The Nan˙gya¯rs: Female Ritual Specialist of Kerala.” Asian Theatre Journal 13.1 (Spring): 54–67. de Bruin, Hanne M. 1998. “Studying Performance in South India: A Synthesis of Theories.” South Asia Research 18.1: 12–38. ¯ rubhan˙ga: The Breaking of the Thighs.” Journal of South Gerow, Edwin, trans. 1985. “U Asian Literature, 20.1: 57–70. Reprinted in Essays on the Maha¯bha¯rata, edited by A. Sharma, Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1990. Haberman, David. 1988. Acting as a Way of Salvation: A Study of Ra¯ga¯nuga¯ Bhakti Sa¯dhana. New York: Oxford University Press. Haksar, A.N.D., trans. 1993. The Shattered Thigh and the Other Maha¯bha¯rata Plays of Bha¯sa. New Delhi: Penguin Books. Jones, Clifford Reis. 1972. “Temple Theatres and the Sanskrit Tradition in Kerala.” Sam fi skrita Ranga Annual 6: 101–12. ———. 1973. “Source Materials for the Construction of the Na¯fityamandapa in the S´ilparatna and the Tantrasamuccaya S´ilpa Bha¯gam.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 93.3 (July–September): 286–296. ———, ed. 1984. The Wondrous Crest-Jewel in Performance. Delhi: Oxford University Press. Kunjunni Raja, K. 1964. Ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam: An Introduction. New Delhi: Sangeet Natak Akademi. fi skrita Ranga Annual 8:118–23. ——— 1987. “Natfia¯n˙kus´a: A Goad on Actors.” Sam Larson, Gerald James. 1976. “The Aesthetic (rasa¯sva¯da) and the Religious (brahma¯sva¯da) in Abhinavagupta’s Kashmir s´aivism.” Philosophy East and West 26.4: 371– 387. Menon, K. P., trans. 1996. Complete Plays of Bha¯sa. 3 vols. Delhi: Nag Publishers. Menon, K.P.S. 1995. “Major Ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam Artists and Families.” Sangeet Natak 111–14: 128–40. Miller, Barbara Stoler, trans. 1985. “Karnfi abha¯ra: The Trial of Karnfi a.” Journal of South Asian Literature, 20.1: 47–56. Reprinted in Essays on the Maha¯bha¯rata, edited by A. Sharma. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1990. Panchal, Goverdhan. 1984. Ku¯ttampalam and Ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam: A Study of the Traditional Theatre for the Sanskrit Drama of Kerala. New Delhi: Sangeet Natak Akademi. Panikkar, Nirmala. 1992. Nangiar Koothu. Irin ˜ ja¯lakudfi a: Natana Kairali. Paulose, K. G., ed. and trans. 1993. Natfia¯n˙kus´a: A Critique on Dramaturgy. Tripunithura: Government Sanskrit College. Rajagopalan, L. S. 1987. “Consecration of the Ku¯ttambalam Temple Theatres of Kerala.” Sam fi skrita Ranga Annual 8: 22–40. . Women’s Role in Ku¯dfi iya¯fitfitam. 1997. Chennai: Kuppuswami Sastri Research ——— Institute.

ra¯ ma¯ yanfi a on the ku¯ tfi iya¯ tfi tfi am stage


Richmond, Farley. 1990. “Ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam.” In Indian Theater: Traditions of Performance, edited by F. Richmond, D. Swann, and P. Zarrilli. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, pp. 87–117. ———. 2002. Ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam. CD–ROM. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Sullivan, Bruce M. 1996. “Tapatı¯-Sam fi varanfi am: A Ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam Drama by Kulas´ekhara Varman.” Asian Theatre Journal 13.1 (Spring): 26–53. ———. 1997. “Temple Rites and Temple Servants: The Role of Religion in the Survival of Kerala’s Ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam Drama Tradition.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 1.1: 97–115. Tarlekar, G. H. 1991. Studies in the Na¯fitya¯s´a¯tra, with Special Reference to the Sanskrit Drama in Performance. 2nd ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. Unni, N. P. 1977. “Consecration of the Actor in Kerala.” Journal of Kerala Studies 4: 305–312. ———. 1978. New Problems in Bha¯sa Plays. Trivandrum: College Book House. ———. 1992. Some New Perspectives in Bha¯sa Studies. Dharwar: Karnatak University. Unni, N. P., and Bruce M. Sullivan. 1995. The Sun God’s Daughter and King Sam fi varanfi a: “Tapatı¯-Sam fi varanfi am” and the Ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam Drama Tradition. Delhi: Nag Publishers. ———. 2001. The Wedding of Arjuna and Subhadra¯: The Ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam Drama “Subhadra¯Dhanan˜jaya.” Delhi: Nag Publishers. Venu, G. 1989. Production of a Play in Ku¯fitiya¯fitfitam. Irin ˜ ja¯lakudfi a: Natana Kairali. Woolner, A. C., and Lakshman Sarup, trans. [1930] 1985. Thirteen Plays of Bha¯sa. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. Wulff, Donna M. 1986. “Religion in a New Mode: The Convergence of the Aesthetic and the Religious in Medieval India.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 54.4: 673–688.

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10 The “Radio-Active” Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a: Home and Abroad Vidyut Aklujkar The Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Maharashtra came into existence in the spring of 1955, four years before the advent of television in India, when radio was the major means of broadcasting in urban as well as rural India. Radio, with its power to broadcast across regions, had become the stationary substitute for the wandering minstrels of earlier times singing the epics from town to town. Since the radio recitals and dramas lacked a visual component, the radio performance narrative was entirely oral/aural. The newly coined word for radio drama was s´rutika¯, that is, the one that is heard, as it was only to be heard, and not seen. The Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a was a product of this era of orality/aurality. Even though it lacked the powerful visual component, it soon became extremely popular. Hence the adjective in the title of this chapter, the “radio-active” Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. The sama¯sa (compound) therein is of the trfitı¯ya¯ tatpurusfia class, as in “Radiona¯ activitam,” if I may indulge in a cross-lingual play on words. However, upon completion, this “radio-active” Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a did not join the ranks of hundreds of already available isotopes of the original Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, nor was there any sign of decay in decades to follow. Instead, the impact of the Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a was felt far and wide beyond the confines of the original medium of broadcasting, the original language, and the provincial borders. The Gı¯taRa¯ma¯yanfi a thrived, sending forth a steady stream of concerts and live performances by Marathi singers in Maharashtra and other provinces of India in the last four decades of the twentieth century. It is still flourishing in the twenty-first century. It has been carried around by millions of Marathi speakers wherever they have gone to reside, in Europe, North America, or Australia. Even the onset of the ubiquitous TV Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Ramanand Sagar could not eclipse the


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hold of this popular oral Ra¯ma¯yanfi a on the minds of Maharashtrians. To this day, the Marathi-speaking people both at home and abroad fondly sing the songs of the Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, listen to the audiocassettes on their car tape decks in transit, or on their audio systems at home, and attend its public performances by numerous artists, young and old. There are short concerts of select songs of the series or daylong performances covering all fifty-six songs. The Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a has become a living legend: it has already been translated into other modern Indian languages, including five translations in Hindi and at least one each in Gujarati, Bengali, Assamese, Kannada, Telugu, Konkani, English, and Sanskrit. In all these languages it was (and in some still is) being performed and lovingly enjoyed by people, both at home and abroad (see appendix 1). In this essay, I propose to outline the manifold impact and enduring appeal of the oral rendition of the Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a on the Marathi-speaking community and on the larger, multilingual diasporic community of Indians. I shall argue that though it is composed in a provincial vernacular, the Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a has succeeded, mainly through its orality, in bringing together several linguistic communities of India, and has done similar service to the international communities of Indian diaspora. I shall further argue that the popularity of the Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a is not so much due to the religious significance of the Ra¯ma epic in Maharashtra as to secular factors such as drama in its composition, extremely singable lyrics, and memorable musical melodies. We will experience the orality of the narrative being interactive with its textuality through the translations, and observe the continuity among its various modes of transmission such as radio (the original medium), live concerts, LPs, audiocassettes, videos, dances, and TV serials.

The Birth of the Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a The Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a was a series of fifty-six songs composed by a renowned Marathi poet, Gajanan Digambar Madgulkar (1919–1977). It was created for the specific purpose of broadcasting on All-India Radio’s newly started Pune Kendra, thus being composed and serially transmitted over a year in 1955– 1956. The creation of the radio serial was an exceptionally unusual phenomenon in the history of the radio station, however, as it took place in the absence of bureaucratic red tape. The radio station was in its infancy, willing to try new schemes. Unlike serials that are aired on All-India Radio now, which must have fully written drafts and musical melodies and acting directions before they can be submitted, analyzed, and accepted or rejected, the idea of the Gı¯taRa¯ma¯yanfi a or the rendition of Ra¯makatha¯ in singable poems (the Gı¯taRa¯ma¯yanfi a) was suggested as a novelty in a friendly chat between the station director Sitakant Lad and the poet Madgulkar. It was accepted as a challenge by the poet and launched by the radio station with the minimum of conditions and specifications, even before the first song was written. The poet Madgulkar (fondly nicknamed Gadima¯) and the music director Sudhir Phadke (often

“radio-active” gı¯ta-ra¯ ma¯ yanfi a


called Ba¯bu¯jı¯) were long-time friends and knew how to work with each other. They were to be the constants in this scheme, and everyone else would be selected as needed. The poet had a free rein as to the choice of the meters, execution of the story line, and the message he could convey through it. Apart from the number of songs, everything else was left to spontaneity in order to anticipate and answer any suspicion of its being called a government production and propaganda. The series of songs was to be aired starting with Ra¯manavamı¯, the traditional birth date of Ra¯ma, and it was an ongoing process of creativity and live recording/performance, the outcome of which was as unknown to the composer and the music director as it was to the audience and the radio station authorities. Every week, Madgulkar used to compose and write a new song of the series, in pen and ink on foolscap paper, which would be set to music within hours by the noted singer and versatile music director Sudhir Phadke. Old and new singers selected by the music director sang the song, accompanied by an orchestra of radio artists, and the song was recorded and simultaneously broadcast in the newly built studio of Pune Radio Station. (Since Sudhir Phadke was a friend of my father, my family and I attended one such live recording session in that studio, where the song of the monkeys’ building the bridge was coming alive.) Every song was aired first on a Sunday morning and then again that Tuesday night. We, the young school-going children and their music-loving parents in Pune, Mumbai, and nearby places in Maharashtra, never missed either one of those occasions. As the series became popular, the daily newspapers in Pune began to print the text of the new song every week after its first release. We, the school-going children, used to clip the column of the song with its introductory narration from these newspapers and paste it in a diary, thus creating our own copy of the yet-to-be-published text. The words that were sung and heard thus preceded those in public print, and the words in print served as a mnemonic tool in the retention and recall of the oral word. Before the next week’s song appeared, the previous one was repeated and memorized in our household by my father, sung by us children, and discussed by everyone we knew at home, in school, and in friends’ houses. I must observe at this point that the listening, repetition, and memorization was not done in our friend’s circle from the religious attitude of gathering merit or punfi ya. No one in my family was a temple-going or otherwise religious person. No one observed any rituals or vratas. Still, we were enchanted by the weekly serial. It was a natural outcome of being smitten by the charm of Madgulkar’s poetic skills and Sudhir Phadke’s singable melodies.

The Impact of the Text and the Performances Since the Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a is a composite of textual recreation of Ra¯makatha¯ and oral radio performance that later snowballed into other performances, the total impact should be analyzed by outlining each of these aspects separately. In the following parts of this section, I shall delineate the historical and literary context of Ra¯makatha¯ in Maharashtra to situate the newly created text in it,


vidyut aklujkar

and also place the multiple performances in the context of the musical milieu of Maharashtra and India. Before I begin, I must clear a possible misunderstanding of the religious significance of Ra¯makatha¯ in Maharashtra. Although Ra¯ma and Ha¯numa¯n temples abound, and plenty of Ra¯mkatha¯ texts have been written through the centuries, Ra¯ma is not the central deity in Maharashtra. True, the story of Ra¯ma has been fondly treasured, and there are even popular expressions that originate from the epic. A common greeting in villages for centuries has been “Ra¯m Ra¯m” instead of “namaska¯ra” or “namaste.” In order to say, “There is no sense/ no substance/no significance in it,” a Marathi uses the expression, tya¯nt ra¯m ra¯hila¯ na¯hı¯ ” or “there is no Ra¯m in it.” However, although Ra¯makatha¯ has thus significantly colored the language, and Ra¯ma is a significant deity, he is still not the central deity of the region. If social festivals are any indication of the centrality of deity, one has to say that the deities of major social importance are Vitfihoba¯ (a pastoral representation of Krfisfi nfi a/Visfi nfi u) and Ganfi es´a (the latter assuming even political and socially progressive significance due to Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s influence). The most prominent yearly pilgrimages are made to the temple of Vitfihoba¯ in Pandharpur, and the most popular yearly festival for which a multitude of images is locally created, displayed in public places, worshiped, and ceremonially immersed in water is of Ganfi es´a. Even the festival of Diwali, which is celebrated in the north as the occasion of Ra¯ma’s return from Lan˙ka¯ after the rescue of Sı¯ta¯, is not associated with Ra¯ma in Maharashtra. Instead, we associate it with Krfisfi nfi a’s killing of Naraka¯sura and rescuing the divine damsels from captivity. There is no counterpart to the Ra¯mlı¯la¯ of the north in Maharashtra, nor is there anything that comes close to a mass-scale Ra¯ma festival in Maharashtra, although the birth of Ra¯ma (Ra¯manavamı¯) is observed in smaller temples and in certain families by chanting and singing bhajans, by listening to the Pura¯nfi a stories, and by distributing sweets. In spite of a steady stream of Ra¯ma texts in all genres of Marathi, there is none that holds a place of religious sanctity similar to Tulsı¯da¯s¯’s Ra¯macaritama¯nas in the north. The attraction of Ra¯makatha¯ in Maharashtra remains on the level of poetry and drama, which generate from time to time heated debate regarding the social and personal dilemmas in the epic.

The Text The Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a was not just a retelling of Va¯lmı¯ki’s Ra¯ma¯yanfi a; it was a composition in an established literary language, Marathi, which already had its share of eminently poetic recreations of the original. The Bha¯va¯rtha Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of Ekna¯th’s (1533–1599) was famous and popular among the templegoing public. Ra¯mdas (1608–1650) rendered portions of Yuddhaka¯nfi dfi a and some other portions of The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in his inimitable terse and provocative style. The Ra¯mavijaya of S´rı¯dhara (1658–1729) was also popular and was being recited routinely until the early twentieth century in ladies’ gatherings in middle-class households. Moropant (panfi dfi ita kavi), the erudite poet, had ful-

“radio-active” gı¯ta-ra¯ ma¯ yanfi a


filled a vow of composing 108 Ra¯ma¯yanfi as of every imaginable sort, including one without labial consonants, one in which every line included the word parantu (however), and so on. In short, there was no dearth of Ra¯ma¯yanfi a retellings in Marathi. Madgulkar’s Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, however, immediately caught on, partly because it was a re-creation suited to a modern technological medium, and partly because of the quality of the text and the music. Among many elements that combine to make it unique, the novelty of its songs sung by different singers to bring out the characters of the epic and retain the element of drama, coupled with its semiclassical music, proved to be immensely appealing to the contemporary audience of the fifties. Unlike the other Ra¯ma¯yanfi a retellings in Marathi, the Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a was created in postindependence times, in a genre of gı¯ta or lyrical song, while observing the limits of weekly deadlines and the arbitrary quantity of fifty-six songs. Chance and accidents had their share in the making of this series. Take, for example, the arbitrary number of fifty-six songs. This was an afterthought. The series was originally to have had only fifty-two songs, but since the year 1955 had an extra month, adhika ma¯sa, in the Hindu calendar, four more songs were added to extend the series over the entire year, and thus it came to have fifty-six.1 Vidya Madgulkar, the wife of the poet, mentions in her memoirs how, even though she prepared his seat, baithak, in his sitting room, Gadima¯ used to write the songs anywhere as they occured to him, and how he always was rushed and pressured by repeated phone calls from Sudhir Phadke inquiring about whether the song was ready.2 In this context, she also mentions the incident of the loss and revival of the very first song. She says that when Gadima¯ wrote the first song and handed it to the music director and singer Sudhir Phadke just before the day of the recording, somehow Phadke lost the paper and could not find it. The date and the time of the recording/broadcasting were set and advertised. So Gadima¯ rewrote the first song from memory, within half an hour, and Sudhir Phadke hurriedly put it to music shortly before it was to be recorded at ten o’clock in the morning. Anxiety about the outcome and anticipation of the unknown were two constants of this weekly production of the epic. After the text was assembled piecemeal by us listeners from newspaper clippings, the first official edition of the text of fifty-six poems and their prose narrations came out on the occasion of Vijaya¯ Das´amı¯, October 3, 1957. This was published for Akashwani by the director of the Publications Division, Delhi, in pocketbook size. It was embellished with beautiful black-and-white drawings by Padma Sahasrabuddhe. Many more editions followed, and soon it was being translated in sister languages and also transliterated in braille. The lyricism of the original in its Sanskrit-based yet colloquial Marathi language yields easily to translation. One noteworthy feature of these translations is that most of them are equi-verse (sama-s´lokı¯) translations and thus, are amenable to being sung in the original style. Since the melodies to which they were originally set by Sudhir Phadke were regarded as an integral part of their lyrics, each of the equi-verse translations uses the same ra¯gas and tunes as the original Marathi version. This brings us to the performance aspect of the phenomenon.


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The Performances The Original Performance Ever since Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a was first heard on the occasion of Ra¯ma-navamı¯ in 1955, Maharashtrians and others have been smitten by its charm. After the first song was aired, the radio station received a shower of handwritten letters of praise, and the poet and the music director also got several such letters. The shower continued to grow as the series progressed. After it was over in March of 1956, listeners experienced a sense of loss. Again, requests of “encore” flooded the infant radio station. All-India Radio repeated the entire series of fifty-six weekly songs due to popular demand. In the history of Akashwani, or All-India Radio, this is a singularly ever-popular program written by a single poet over the duration of a whole year, and put to music by a single music director. Even when I visited India in April of 2001, I was told that the original series of fifty-six songs was being repeated in another a¯vartana or recycling by Sangli radio station in Maharashtra.3

Live Concerts by Sudhir Phadke After the completion of the broadcasting of Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, the music director and lead singer Sudhir Phadke started to give live public concerts of select songs. These were attended by an increasing number of fans. He would read the narrations and play the harmonium while singing the songs. In his lifetime, he gave hundreds of solo performances of the series, singing select songs to a record number of live audiences. One memorable occasion was the twentyfifth anniversary of the Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, when Sudhir Phadke sang the entire Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of fifty-six songs. This silver anniversary celebration (Rajata Mahotsava) took place in the large open-air yard of the New English School on Tilak Road in Pune, and it went on for eight consecutive nights. Tickets were sold out as soon as it was announced. Political leaders such as Yashwantrao Chavhan, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Vaasoo Bhattacharya, and Dada Kondke, and celebrated classical singers such as Bhimsen Joshi and Kishori Amonkar all attended the performances. By then the songs had been translated into nine other vernaculars such as Kannada, Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, and Telugu. So every night, in addition to Sudhir Phadke’s Marathi songs, another prominent singer would sing a few songs from another language. On the last day, or the sa¯n˙gata¯ sama¯roha, when Sudhir Phadke was to bring the entire performance to its culmination, the pressure of well-meaning townspeople wanting to listen and participate in this joyous event was so great that the organizers had to take down the tin fences erected all around the schoolyard and open the last night’s performance to everyone, ticket holder or not. The ticket holders did not object. They sat on their chairs while others perched on the branches of trees, stood on the balconies of nearby houses, or gathered in the alleys and side streets, and listened in perfect attention. In all, nearly fifty thousand people attended the entire performance, and went home feeling blessed.

“radio-active” gı¯ta-ra¯ ma¯ yanfi a


Besides live concerts, other modes of technology have also been explored in the dissemination of the Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. The HMV company brought out a ten-LP recording of all the songs in the voice of Sudhir Phadke, starting in 1965. It sold so well that a platinum record was cut by HMV and presented to Sudhir Phadke. Also, a set of ten audiocassette tapes comprising the entire Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in the voice of Sudhir Phadke was released in 1968 by the Gramophone Company of India, and is still one of the bestselling items in the music markets of Mumbai.

Other Artists in India In a recent attempt to present the Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a as a legacy of the twentieth century to the new generation of the twenty-first century, Anand Madgulkar, a son of the poet, produced a TV version of the Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in twenty-eight episodes on the Alpha Marathi channel of Z TV. It started on September 27, 2000, went on into 2001, and was transmitted in fifty-four countries. He used the original tunes of Sudhir Phadke, but directed, choreographed, and dramatized some songs and sang them himself along with other singers. This has brought forth mixed reviews, as some felt that adding low-budget visual components to the splendidly aural Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a did nothing to enhance it, and others disliked the visual tampering with the old series of songs, but the producer reports a warm reception from younger audiences. He attributes the sustained popularity of the Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a to the very human characters created by the poet. “We Marathi people are practical, down-to-earth people, we felt that these were people like us, and so these characters as portrayed by Gadima¯ became our own,” he said in a conversation with me during my recent trip to India. His analysis corroborated my argument that religiosity of the audience has very little to do with this living legend. Its lasting appeal is in its lifelike characters, along with its memorable music.

Singers Abroad Other dedicated singers have popularized Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in other provinces of India,4 and also in several cities in North America. For example, from 1980 until now, 2003, Dr. Gopal Marathe of Los Angeles has performed the Gı¯taRa¯ma¯yanfi a every year in Los Angeles and on numerous occasions in other cities of North America. He has given concerts of the original Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in New York, Philadelphia, Houston, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose, and Phoenix in the United States, and in Fredericton and other cities in Canada. On April 3, 1983, in Los Angeles, he gave a twelve-hour-long concert in which he sang the entire Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a of fifty-six songs all by himself. Since a tabla player competent enough to accompany him was hard to come by, he played the tabla for each song himself beforehand, recorded it on cassettes, and played those cassette tapes while he sang the songs for this program. In 1986, he gave one more day-long performance of the entire series, this time with another singer, Shobha Ambegaonkar. People flocked from as far as Se-


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attle and Phoenix to Los Angeles to attend this program. Audio and video recordings of this event are available. His next year’s concert for Ra¯ma-navamı¯ is already booked in Los Angeles, and another one is being planned in Australia for the following year. In 1990 he organized and produced a concert of the Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in Los Angeles where the main performers were forty-five children under the age of twelve, all from the Marathi and Indian diaspora. All of them had received instruction in classical Indian music from Gopal Marathe, but on stage, on that day, the only performing artists were these children, who narrated, sang, and played the accompanying instruments such as tabla and harmonium.5 Another singer, Narendra Datar of Toronto, has also given many concerts of the original Marathi Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yana in North American cities, and now is giving concerts in Hindi of the same. I had the good fortune to attend the first Canadian Hindi concert in Toronto on March 31, 2001. In this concert, Datar sang eleven of the fifty-six songs translated in equi-verses, set to the exact tunes of the original rendering. This audience of five hundred people included Canadians, of Indian heritage and otherwise. Many of these concerts are given to aid local charities, and they are all attended not just by Marathi people but also by Gujarati, Hindi, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada speakers and, of course, by Americans and Canadians of all kinds who do not speak any Indian language. Incompatibility of verbal language seems amply compensated by the universal language of music. The Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a is by no means sacrosanct, and musical innovations are, of course, possible, as was witnessed on the University of British Columbia campus at the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Conference in June 2000, where Sudnya Naik presented a bharatanatyam dance in the hall of the Museum of Anthropology. The dance was based on a song from the Marathi Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yana, on the episode of ka¯n˜cana-mrfiga, the chase of the golden deer, and it was sung by a Teluguspeaking local singer, Sunita Bapuji, who had set it to ra¯ga Revatı¯, a melody of the Karnataka style of Indian classical music. In a May 5, 2002, concert program of semiclassical Indian music, the diasporic Marathi youth of Vancouver ended the concert by singing the last song of the Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, ga¯ ba¯fila¯n˜no s´rı¯ ra¯ma¯yanfi a as it is in ra¯ga Bhairavı¯, which traditionally ends music concerts. The fact is that due to its well-loved lyrics, the Marathi Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a is in a constant process of regeneration both at home and abroad.

The Appraisal The blend of poetry and music that made the Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yana a resounding success was often described by fans and critics as the manfi i-ka¯n˜cana-yoga of the world of music. It was as if a precious gem were set in a genuine gold setting; each succeeded in enhancing the other. At this point, we can attempt to analyze these elements in detail by first examining the poem and then the music.

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The Poem The Opening and the End Va¯lmı¯ki was the main source and inspiration for the fifty-six songs, although Madgulkar was conversant with the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a retellings of Tulsı¯da¯s, Ekna¯th, Mukteshvar, and Moropant.6 Where to begin, where to end? What to choose and what not? Here Madgulkar’s past experience in the field of cinema was helpful. Although he could not complete his formal education due to poverty in his childhood, he had become an accomplished poet and short story writer. Many of his short stories were made into films. He had not only written songs for these films but he also had been a successful screenplay writer for years in the Marathi film industry, and he brought his astute sense of drama and visual imaging to the present task. He chose to open his Ra¯ma¯yanfi a at one of its most dramatic moments, focusing on the episode of the first public recital of the epic, with these words: svaye s´rı¯ ra¯ma prabhu¯ aikatı¯ / Kus´a lava ra¯ma¯yanfi a ga¯tı¯ // S´rı¯ Ra¯ma, the Lord himself is listening / as Kus´a and Lava sing the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a // The song reminded the audience of the original recitation of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a with the Lord himself in attendence, and thereby situated the present performance on a divine plane. It also linked the present singers to the singing twins of ancient times, Kus´a and Lava, the progeny of Lord Ra¯ma. The first song focused on the irony that the sons were singing the life of their father, even though all were unaware of the connection between them. It was as if the lamplight was worshiping the divine brilliance of which it partakes: jyotine teja¯cı¯ a¯ratı¯. The ignorance of one’s real identity, one’s lineage, one’s heritage in that episode created the philosophical setting of the first song. The song ended just short of the epiphany, where Ra¯ma leaves his throne and embraces the twins, without realizing that he is embracing his own children. This allowed the successive songs of Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yana to appear in the voice of the narrating twins overlaid by the voices of appropriate characters. The opening song was saturated in self-reflexivity. It described how the seven heavenly notes were reviving the thoughts of Va¯lmı¯ki in a confluence of the nine rasas or sentiments. The scene that brought tears to the eyes of Ra¯ma as he was listening to his own life through the song of the twins was described as pratyaksfia¯huni pratima¯ utkatfia, meaning “the image is more intense than the actual.” Here, the poet had, in effect, offered a definition of poetry or art. That line reverberated in the minds of the listeners of the radio rendition for a long time, and was later used by many critics to admire Madgulkar’s recreation of Va¯lmı¯ki’s poem. Gadima¯ never took the position of excelling Va¯lmı¯ki, as he was humble and felt great reverence for Va¯lmı¯ki. In choosing the beginning and the end of his re-creation, however, Madgulkar had departed from Va¯lmı¯ki. He did not simply end with the coronation and happy union of Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯, as some


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Ra¯makatha¯ versions meant for children ended. He did include Sı¯ta¯’s abandonment by Ra¯ma, and her giving birth to Lava and Kus´a, but he chose not to include the last episode of Sı¯ta¯’s final confrontation in Ra¯ma’s court and her entering the earth. Instead, in the last song of the Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yana, Va¯lmı¯ki has the last word. In that song, Va¯lmı¯ki tells his disciples, Lava and Kus´a, how they should go to the city of Raghu-ra¯ja¯, and how they should present the songs of Ra¯ma¯yanfi a to the citizens and render them in the presence of Ra¯ma himself. This ending achieved many things. It neatly completed the cycle of songs just where it had begun, with Lava and Kus´a in Ra¯ma’s court, but this time, the poet is paying homage to the first poet Va¯lmı¯ki by bringing in his character alive. Again, this is a song full of self-reflexivity, where the sage instructs the young singers on the proper mode of singing and artistic behavior. Madgulkar’s Va¯lmı¯ki says to Lava and Kus´a, as the poet says to the future singers, “Pay attention to the order of the cantos. Make sure you evoke the emotions in your clear notes. Sing a little every day to complete the entire story. Stay within the limits of rhythm and pace. Keep the acting on your faces to a minimum when the king himself listens. And remember, this is not just a poem, this is a treasure of immortal nectar. Do not tell anyone your name or your city; call yourselves only my disciples. Do not accept money or gold, either as a donation, or again as daksfiinfi a¯, as wealth is of no value for the sages. Just make all your aspirations dedicated to S´rı¯ Ra¯ma.”

The Format For all of his songs Gadima¯ chose a simple format. Every song had a refrain and a flexible number of stanzas, anywhere from five to eleven stanzas of three to four lines of varying length. The meters he chose were simple singable meters of pada style popular in the Marathi bha¯vagı¯ta tradition, with roughly the same number of ma¯tra¯s in each line, and not of the rigid syllabic (aksfiaraganfi a-vrfitta) style of Sanskrit. The meters were suited both to the episode and to the voice of the epic character who sings the song. An example is the song Sa¯valfia¯ ga ra¯macandra, in which Kausalya¯ sings the joys of raising the child Ra¯ma to her co-wives. It was written in the four-quartered sonorous ovı¯ meter used by rural women to sing their extemporized songs every morning while grinding grains on the grindstone. The choice of this popular meter and of the right words to illustrate Kausalya¯’s motherly pride, hope, and thankfulness for her good fortune made that song so memorable that it was heard at many women’s ceremonies such as dfi oha¯fil-jevanfi (somewhat like the baby shower), ba¯rsa (naming ceremony), and even the halfidı¯-kun˙ku ceremonies celebrating the blessed state of being married. Madgulkar expertly utilized the power of refrain for his songs. Some of his refrains have become proverbial in present-day Marathi. An oft-quoted one is a¯ka¯s´a¯s´¯ı jadfi ale na¯te dharanfi ¯ı-ma¯tece, svayam ˙ vara jha¯le sı¯tece. It describes the occasion of Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯’s wedding as the alliance between the sky and Mother Earth, since Ra¯ma is divine as the incarnation of Visfi nfi u, and Sı¯ta¯ is the daughter of Mother Earth. Another proverbial refrain comes from the song of

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Ra¯ma in which he rejects Bharata’s passionate pleas to return to the throne of Ayodhya¯, and advises Bharata on the nature of life, saying, “All sorrows are created by destiny, Bharata, no one is to blame. The son of man in this world is not independent” (daiva-ja¯ta du˙khe bharata¯, dosfia na¯ kunfi a¯ca¯, para¯dhı¯na a¯he jagatı¯ putra ma¯nava¯ca¯). Many others were memorable; for example, when Sı¯ta¯ says to Ra¯ma, “How can you bid me farewell? Where there is Ra¯ma, there is Sı¯ta¯” (Niropa kasala¯ ma¯jha¯ gheta¯? Jethe ra¯ghava, tethe sı¯ta¯).

The Content The songs of the Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yana can be grouped in broad types in view of their content. They can be roughly grouped as narrative, descriptive, communal, and voiced. In each category, Madgulkar’s poetic skills are notable. For example, the opening song that describes how the sons are singing the life of their father is acutely dramatic. Very few songs—about seven—are episodic narrations: the birth of Ra¯ma, the wedding of Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯, Kus´a and Lava’s two songs describing the airborne Hanuma¯n setting fire to Lan˙ka¯ with his blazing tail and the famous battle of Ra¯ma and Ra¯vanfi a in progress, the song of the gandharvas and apsara¯s on the occasion of the slaying of Ra¯vanfi a, and the song of the citizens of Ayodhya¯ when they sing victory chants upon Ra¯ma’s return to Ayodhya¯. In these songs, listeners feel as if they are listening to a running commentary of live incidents. Only two songs are simple poetic descriptions: Kus´a and Lava’s description of Ayodhya¯, and Ra¯ma’s description of Citraku¯fita. In these Madgulkar has successfully portrayed pen-pictures of prominent places in the epic story. A few songs are communal songs, or san˙gha-gı¯tas: the song of Guha and his boatmen giving a ride to Ra¯ma and his party (jaya gan˙ge jaya bha¯girathı¯), and the song of the monkeys when they build the bridge across the ocean to Lan˙ka¯. Both these songs became instantly popular. The boatmen’s song was heard at many a school picnic, sung by the marching or traveling schoolchildren. Part of its popularity with schoolchildren was its lively tune, which made everyone hum the notes and tap the rhythm. But its popularity was also due to the humility, the devotion, and the ethic of doing the appointed task (dharma) that found expression in it. The monkey song, setu ba¯ndha¯ re, was also a favorite of children due to its wonderful thoughts and lively imagery, and of course its inspiring vocal imitation of a monkey cry of victory. Both these were Madgulkar’s original additions to the story line, and a certain departure from Va¯lmı¯ki. Here he had his chance of giving voice to the lowliest characters in the epic.

The Characterization through Voiced Songs The greatest number of songs were in the voices of major and minor characters. These were the songs that brought to life the characters of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a and thus became the most memorable. In these, you could hear Kaikayı¯ cajoling and conniving to secure her two boons, Bharata striking at his mother with words like arrows, and Das´aratha gasping for one last glimpse of Ra¯ma. Here


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you could hear prince Ra¯ma consoling Bharata, admonishing Sugrı¯va, ordering An˙gada to go with an ultimatum to Ra¯vanfi a. You could witness Ra¯ma uttering astonishingly cruel words to disown Sı¯ta¯ after having killed Ra¯vanfi a and rescued her, and then again, after Sı¯ta¯’s fire ordeal, swearing on oath that she is the only one in his heart and soul. In these voiced songs, the spotlight was mainly on Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯. Ra¯ma had the most, that is, ten songs, closely followed by Sı¯ta¯, who had six. Unlike Va¯lmı¯ki’s Sı¯ta¯, who is known to speak little, Madgulkar’s Sı¯ta¯ speaks her mind. She argues with Ra¯ma and produces convincing reasons why he should take her into exile. She makes entreaties to Ra¯ma to get her the golden deer, which she describes vividly. In a progressive episodic song, she talks to Ra¯vanfi a, telling him not to wait at her door, sensing his evil intentions and ordering him to leave. This song ends in her being terrified as she is forcefully abducted, and in her cry for help. In captivity, Sı¯ta¯ again talks to Ra¯vanfi a, sternly admonishing him and threatening him with reminders of her husband’s valor and his imminent victory over her abductor. In another song, Sı¯ta¯, as a mother-to-be, expresses to Ra¯ma in most endearing terms her wishes to roam in the forest woods. In her last song, Sı¯ta¯ is shocked to realize that she is abandoned by her beloved without his even communicating with her. This is the most haunting song of the series, the only song sung in the original radio series by the phenomenal Lata Mangeshkar. In this song, Sı¯ta¯’s question “Tell me Laksfi manfi a, where shall I go?” is repeated in the refrain and in the end, and remains painfully unanswered. The greatest achievement of Gadima¯ was to regenerate vivid characters who were already living in the minds of the audience without sacrificing their authenticity, and yet to make them thoroughly relatable and appealing to a contemporary audience by using familiar idioms. He accepted the challenge and succeeded in it beyond expectation. His characters were close to the Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a characters, and therefore appeared human to the practicalminded, not overly religious Maharashtrians. There was no attempt to disguise the original physical abduction of Sı¯ta¯ by a lame device of “shadow-Sı¯ta¯” nor any attempt to whitewash the frailties of Kaikayı¯ or Sı¯ta¯, or even the shortcomings of Ra¯ma. Sı¯ta¯, in the Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, was really tempted by the golden deer, and even believed that Kaikayı¯ and Bharata would be jealous of her when they saw her with her pet. Laksfi manfi a was impatient, quick to anger, and doubtful even of his younger brother, Bharata’s motives. Bharata’s wrath at his mother’s foolish deed was felt in his angry words, just as much as his genuine sorrow was heard in the song in which he tells Ra¯ma that he is an orphan without his father and mother, and then he reasons with Ra¯ma to come back and accept the kingdom.7 Ra¯ma was a lovable human prince in the process of realizing his divinity. He could be very patient when trying to pacify angry Laksfi manfi a, and philosophical when convincing Bharata why he could not come back to Ayodhya¯. Patient with brothers and mothers, obedient of father and sages, heroic on the battlefield, and diplomatic when dealing with the monkey king, Ra¯ma still had human weaknesses. He was really distraught at the loss of his beloved wife, and wailed in Laksfi manfi a’s presence. His song in which he uttered some heart-wrenching, cruel words in front of his army, and the next

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song, in which he explained his astonishing behavior with oaths and confessions of loyalty to Sı¯ta¯, were both touching, and these were the favorites of audiences because they sensed here the inexplicable irony of the human situation in which there are no simple answers to pressing ethical dilemmas. Madgulkar’s Ra¯ma also confronted at least one other tough ethical question when he answered the dying Va¯li, who asked him why he was killed by Ra¯ma when Ra¯ma was not wronged by him.8 Ra¯ma’s duty as a kshatriya to protect the wronged Sugrı¯va and his promise to Sugrı¯va were given as reasons for the killing. Ra¯ma was thus portrayed as a complex character full of emotions and passions, at times capable of questionable actions, yet bound by a constricting weight of traditional virtue and the sanctity of a promise. Just as his personal ethical dilemmas were voiced in these songs, his courage, stately diplomacy, and steadfastness under attack also found forceful expression. Even minor characters became memorable through these eloquent songs. Women, monkeys, and demons had voices along with kings, princes, and sages. Kausalya¯ had three songs; Das´aratha, Vis´va¯mitra, Laksfi manfi a, Bharata, Hanuman, and S´u¯rpanfi akha¯ each had two songs; Kaikayı¯, Ahalya¯, S´abarı¯, Jafita¯yu, Sugrı¯va, and Ja¯mbava¯n each had one song. Although Kumbhakarnfi a had a sobering song admonishing and reassuring Ra¯vanfi a, Ra¯vanfi a had none. Ra¯vanfi a’s oppressive presence was only felt through prose narrations, poetic descriptions, and the words addressed to him by the others. I could go on analyzing each song at length, but suffice it to say that through these voices Madgulkar succeeds in recreating Ra¯makatha¯ in a truly memorable form.

The Music Dr. Sunanda Chavji, in a recent article entitled, “I, My Generation and Sudhir Phadke,”9 says, “The wealth of Madgulkar’s language in the Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a is indeed a topic fit for an article, but there is absolutely no doubt that it was the notes of Sudhir Phadke that conveyed it so masterfully to the audience, and that was itself a great service.” She reminisces, “On every Ra¯manavamı¯, in the courtyard of Nutan Marathi Vidyamandir, there was the concert of the Gı¯taRa¯ma¯yanfi a sung by Sudhir Phadke, and we would attend as many times as possible. No matter how many times we heard it, it would seem fresh every time, and never tire us. I don’t believe that there was any other performance of its kind that stayed so fresh in the minds of the audience, not in Maharashtra, and most probably not even in all of India.” She also asserts that the “Gı¯taRa¯ma¯yanfi a was a miracle, and our generation actually experienced it to the fullest.” It is difficult to gauge the exact contribution of music to the success of the series since the words and the music behave like an ideal couple, each enhancing the other and presenting to the world a totally united front. Since I am not a connoisseur of music, my appraisal of the music will be rudimentary and mainly based on the comments of music teachers and singers such as Gopal Marathe (see appendix 2).


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The original tunes under the music direction of Sudhir Phadke are all based on basic, commonly known ragas of the north Indian classical music tradition such as Yaman, Bhoopali, Sarang, Vasant, Bhimpalas, and Bhairavi. They are palatable to music lovers and connoisseurs alike, and easily accessible to the most elementary singer. The ragas and talas were selected to suit the time of the day of the incident and the mood of the song. The original choice of male and female singers was just right for the voice of the epic characters. All were singers well versed in classical Indian music, and knew how to sing in the popular bha¯vagı¯ta style of light music, paying close attention to the pronunciation of words and bringing out the emotions through their melodies. The most important factor in making the series a sustained succcess, however, was the choice of musical settings that evoked the right mood by the music director, Sudhir Phadke. The following songs give a few examples of his versatility as music director and as singer: The joy at the occasion of the wedding of Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯. (a¯ka¯s´a¯s´¯ı jadfi ale) Laksfi manfi a’s passionate anger at Ra¯ma’s banishment (ra¯ma¯vinfi a ra¯jyapadı¯) Bharata’s anguished outcry at Kaikayı¯’s outrageous action (ma¯ta¯ na tu¯, vairinfi ¯ı) Ra¯ma’s ultimatum to Ra¯vanfi a through An˙gada (ja¯ jhanfi i ja¯ ra¯vanfi a¯sa) S´u¯rpanfi akha¯’s flirtations (konfi a tu¯ kutfihala¯ ra¯jakuma¯r) The outcry of mutilated S´u¯rpanfi akha¯ to Ra¯vanfi a for revenge (su¯dfi a ghe) Ra¯ma’s soothing advice to Bharata (para¯dhı¯na a¯he jagatı¯ putra ma¯nava¯ca¯) The brotherly admonitions of Kumbhakarnfi a to Ra¯vanfi a (yogya samayi) The voice of the a¯dikavi, Va¯lmı¯ki, to singers (ga¯ ba¯fila¯n˜no ´srı¯ ra¯ma¯yanfi a)

Conclusion As I have shown above, the Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a was a spontaneous recreation of Va¯lmı¯ki’s Ra¯makatha¯ in sophisticated Marathi poetry through lyrical and dramatic songs, broadcast in radio serial and then through live concerts. The enduring appeal of the Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a as a radio serial, and in live performances, remains uneclipsed even after four decades, at home and abroad. The credit of its success and appeal can be attributed to a combination of many aspects, such as the poet’s ability to bring to life the original characters in voiced songs without sacrificing authenticity, his ability to create an impeccably appealing idiom, and the music director’s talent in popularizing the songs through the choice of the right ra¯ga and endearing melodies. The happy combination of all these factors was perhaps a blessed coincidence in the history of performances of Ra¯makatha¯. The Marathi Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a has indeed secured for itself a place of pride and pleasure in the hearts of music lovers. appendix 1. translations and their performers In a recent trip to India, on April 23, 2001, in Pune, I visited Anand Madgulkar, second son of the late poet Gadima¯, and talked with him about the Gı¯ta-

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Ra¯ma¯yana. He knew of equi-verse translations in several languages, and had heard of several performances of the translations to the original melodies. Dr. Gopal Marathe also gave many details of translations and their performances. Based on my conversations with Anand Madgulkar and Narendra Datar of Toronto, and e-mail communications with Gopal Marathe, here is a partial list. There are at least five translations in Hindi: 1. By Rudradatta Mishra from Gwalior, published by Nagesh Joshi, 27 Jayamangala, Shiva srishti, Chembur, Mumbai, in 1976. Sung by Vasant Ajgaonkar. The text used by Narendra Datar in his Hindi concert in Toronto. 2. By Hari Narayan Vyas, composed in the sixties. Sung by Bal Gokhle. 3. By Kusum Tambe of Mandla, Madhya Pradesh. 4. By a singer from Nagpur, in Avadhi (as recalled by Anand Madgulkar). 5. By Gokhale from Baroda. In Kannada by Prof. B. H. Tofakhane. Sung by Upendra Bhat. In Telugu by Vaman Mullai Varadacharya. Sung by Dhondushastri and Shyamala Satyanarayan Rao. In Bengali by Kamala Bhagwat, who lived in Calcutta and also was a performer. In Gujarati by the late Hansraj Thakkar, from Mumbai. Sung by Hansraj Thakkar and Kumud Bhagwat. In Konkani by Mr. Kamath. Sung by Upendra Bhat. In English by Mr. Ursekar, a retired judge, who rendered it in “Shakespearean”! In Sindhi by Rita Shahani, poet and singer, who rendered the songs in classical ragas and created a ballet based on them. (Stri, Sept. 83, p. 39) In Sanskrit by Vasant Gadgil. Sung by Malati Pande; Kamala Ketkar, who taught Sanskrit in Srimati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey Women’s University, Mumbai, and perhaps also by Sanjay Upadhye, from Vile Parle. Narendra Datar mentioned one Prof. Sitaram Datar, of Andheri/Thane, who has translated it back into Sanskrit. Gopal Marathe said that he has on a cassette tape several Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yana songs sung in Kannada to the original melodies. Gopal Marathe also told me that in 1990 he met a blind singer in Mumbai who sang the Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yana with the help of a braille transliteration of the Gı¯taRa¯ma¯yana. appendix 2. musical form Dr. Gopal Marathe sent me the following information on the musical setup of the Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. He uses the song numbers from the published text of the Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Ta¯la (beat). These songs are in the following ta¯las:


vidyut aklujkar 6 songs in Ekta¯l of 12 beats (8, 16, 24, 35, 39, 45) 1 song in Khemta¯ of 6 beats (47) 1 in Da¯dra¯ also of 6 beats (6) 1 in Jhapta¯l of 10 beats (9) 3 in Tinta¯l of 16 beats (14, 23, 28) 1 in Ru¯pak of 7 beats (26) 12 songs in Bhajanı¯ of 8 beats (1, 2, 4, 5, 10, 34, 37, 49, 51, 52, 53, 56) The rest of the 31 songs are in Kehrwa¯, also of 8 beats.

Ragas: Bhu¯palı¯, Kafı¯, Des´, Bhı¯mpala¯s´, Pilu¯, Vasant, Ham ˙ sa-dhvani, Bibha¯s, Baha¯r, Madhuvantı¯, Todfi ¯ı, Baira¯gı¯, Ada¯nfi a¯, Keda¯r, Hamı¯r, Yaman, Pu¯riya¯ Dhana¯s´rı¯, Maru-biha¯g, (Vrfinda¯vani) Sa¯ran˙g, Multa¯ni, Tilang, Asa¯varı¯, Hindol, and Bhairavı¯. In most case these ragas match the time when the incident in the story is possibly taking place. For example, song no. 10, Cala¯ Ra¯ghava¯ cala¯, is in raga Biha¯s (morning raga) and it is clear from the commentary that the incident is taking place in the morning. They also match the mood of the song. For example, song no. 22, Da¯fitala¯ cohikadfi e andha¯r of Das´aratha, is in Bairagi to suit the dejected mood of the lamenting king. notes This essay was read at the workshop on “Performance, Gender, and the Narrative Design of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a,” at the University of British Columbia, June 15–16, 2001. Second reading at the Centre for India and South Asia Research, March 13, 2003. 1. “Mantarlele Divas, Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a¯ce” by Vidya Madgulkar. From www.gadima .com, the Web site of Gadima¯; the Web site was created in honor of the poet. 2. Ibid. 3. Information given to me by Sudhir Phadke in a conversation in April 2001. 4. For example, N. B. Datar of Toronto has given about 250 concerts of the Gı¯taRa¯ma¯yanfi a in and around Bombay in the sixties. Sudhakar Kawthalkar used to give several concerts of Marathi Gı¯ta-Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, in the sixties and seventies. 5. Information collected in telephone conversation with Dr. Gopal Marathe on June 11, 2001. The events’ news coverage also appears in the North American Marathi newsletter Brfihan Maha¯ra¯fisfitra Vrfitta, issued on May 15, 1990. Available from BMM newsletter, Box 18154, Philadelphia. 6. Anand Madgulkar told me that after the death of his father, they donated fifteen different Ra¯ma¯yanfi as in his father’s collection to the Jaykar Library of Pune University. 7. Although alive, Kaikayı¯ is mentioned as dead by Bharata, since he thinks she behaves unlike his kind mother that he used to know. 8. “I have only fulfilled my dharma, my duty. It is not just killing Va¯li, it is eradicating evil” was the refrain of the thirty-sixth song. 9. Chavji, “Mı¯, a¯macı¯ pidfi hı¯ a¯nfi i Sudhı¯ra Phadfi ke,” Sa¯pta¯hik Saka¯fil, Pune, March 23, 2002, pp. 30–33.

11 Mysticism and Islam in Javanese Ra¯ma¯yanfi a Tales Laurie J. Sears

Ki Cabolek said: “I first embraced mystical knowledge in Yemen, when I studied / under a teacher, whose name was Ki Shaikh Zain, / the doctrine he taught was similar to that of Dewa Ruci / that was the mystical knowledge passed on [to me] / which was similar to Bhima Suci.”1

Yasadipura I To hear mystical Islamic voices in Javanese Ra¯ma¯yanfi a tales, this essay focuses on several discursive moments in the web and flow of Javanese shadow play stories when particular densities of beliefs and symbols coalesce to reveal new textual authorities. The study of power within societal and historical narratives has been enriched overthe past decades by Michel Foucault’s interest in intellectual genealogies as points of analytical access to the discourses—what it was possible to think—in a certain age. Foucault was concerned with how different discourses came into being and the ways in which such discourses were appropriated for various purposes. Foucault’s description of the movements of power in society is especially useful: “Power’s condition of possibility . . . must not be sought in the primary existence of a central point, in a unique source of sovereignty from which secondary and descendent forms would emanate; it is the moving substrate of force relations which, by virtue of their inequality, constantly engender states of power, but the latter are always local and unstable.”2 These continually unfolding local and unstable relations of power constitute narrative traditions like the shadow play tales as sites of contestation and accommodation in the search to hear new relations


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of power in specific story cycles. Exploring these local sites allows us to see the absorption and appropriation of imported religious, intellectual, or technological ideas as creative acts with unpredictable consequences. Rather than proposing that Javanese poets or performers were compelled by powerful patrons to incorporate new symbols and ideas into their stories, I suggest that they chose to adopt and adapt new concepts because these concepts allowed them to accrue cultural capital while introducing intellectual tensions that enhanced their art. In this essay, I trace the emergence of Islamic ideas in Javanese Ra¯ma¯yanfi a stories by examining several poetic and narrative texts from the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I end with a focus on the adoption and adaptation of new ideas and technologies as the shadow theater and its stories became sites of interpretive struggles in colonial and postcolonial Javanese society.

History of the Story of Rahwana’s Birth It must have been during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—and possibly earlier—that older Saivite/Buddhist ideas of power and knowledge in the shadow theater traditions began to be expressed in Islamic terms. To explore the absorption of Islamic ideas and imagery into Javanese Ra¯ma¯yanfi a tales in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, I investigate a particular story that has circulated through Javanese culture for over a thousand years to illuminate the workings of power that bring Islamic imagery into specific and localized sites. In the repertoire of the central Javanese shadow theater, the story is called “The Marriage of Sukesi” or Alap-alapan Sukesi, and the germ of the story, the birth of the demon-king Rahwana [Skt. Ra¯vanfi a], can be traced back to the Sanskrit Ra¯ma¯yanfi a attributed to Va¯lmı¯ki. The story was first rendered into Old Javanese in the tenth century c.e.3 The permutations of the story of Rahwana’s birth in the nineteenth century document a late stage in the history of Islamic penetration into the archipelago, when Javanist Sufi mystical traditions were making an accommodation to more orthodox interpretations of Islam. As part of this accommodation, Islam was molded to fit the shape of indigenous Javanese religious beliefs. Certain mystical practices that had flourished freely under the older Indic kingdoms were increasingly frowned upon in the central Javanese courts, where Islamic titles and rituals were increasingly adopted by Javanese rulers— new practices that both shored up the charisma of the courts and antagonized the Dutch trading company, or VOC, which was to collapse at the very end of the eighteenth century and give way to the imposition of Dutch colonial rule. These attitudes are reflected in the written texts of the story of Rahwana’s birth produced by Javanese court poets in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Although for several centuries Islamic ideas had grown together with kejawen or Javanist practices, Islamic and Javanist traditions began to fragment into separate domains demarcated across class and urban/rural lines in the latter part of the nineteenth century, due to pressures from Dutch administrators on local Javanese elites.

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The earliest mention of the story of the birth of Rahwana occurs in the Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a of the Sanskrit Ra¯ma¯yanfi a attributed to Va¯lmı¯ki. Although the Va¯lmı¯ki Ra¯ma¯yanfi a is believed to date back to at least 200 b.c.e., the Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a is a later addition which assumed its present form by the second half of the second century c.e.4 In the Sanskrit Uttaraka¯nfi dfi a, a ra¯ksfiasa (demon) named Suma¯li emerged from the nether world with his beautiful daughter Kaikesı¯. Seeking to increase the power of the demons, he wished to marry his daughter to the sage Vis´ravas, so that she might beget sons equal to Vais´ra¯vanfi a (Vis´ravas’s son), also called the Lord of Wealth. On her father’s instructions, Kaikesı¯ went to Vis´ravas, but she inauspiciously interrupted him as he was engaged in the fire sacrifice. He replied thus to her brief admission of her name and that she had come at her father’s request: I know well, O Fortunate One, what brings thee here, thou art desirous of having sons by me, thou whose gait is like unto an intoxicated elephant! But, having presented thyself at this hour, hear me, O Fortunate One, thou shalt bring forth offspring of a dark aspect delighting in the companionship of doers of evil deeds. O Lady of Lovely Form, thou shalt beget Rakshasas of cruel exploits.5 When Kaikesı¯ bemoaned her fate, Vis´ravas relented and said that her last son would be virtuous, like him. Thus were the demons Rahwana (Ra¯vanfi a), Kumbakarna (Kumbhakarnfi a), and Surpanaka (S´u¯rpanfi akha¯), a daughter, born, as well as Wibisana (Vibhı¯sfi anfi a), the promised son of virtue. The Old Javanese Uttara Kandha, which Zoetmulder groups with the prose parwa literature recounting the episodes of the Maha¯bha¯rata, is believed to date back to the late tenth century c.e.6 In the Old Javanese Uttara Kandha, the story of Rahwana’s birth remains basically the same.7 Sumali wishes his daughter to have children equal to Waisrawana (Vais´ra¯vanfi a) in order to strengthen the power of the rakshasas. He thus manages to give his daughter to Wisrawa (Vis´ravas), and she begets Rahwana and his brothers and sister. The Uttara Kandha and the rest of the Old Javanese parwa do not have authors attributed to them. The first Javanese author to be connected to the story of Wisrawa and Kaikesi is Mpu Tantular, who rendered a prose text of the early history of Rahwana, the Arjunawijaya Kakawin, into poetry. Scholars agree that it is most likely that Tantular used the Old Javanese Uttara Kandha as the basis for his story rather than a Sanskrit text, although Tantular may indeed have had a firsthand knowledge of Sanskrit. According to Balinese tradition, Tantular was supposedly a Buddhist in Kadhiri during the reign of Jayabhaya, but it is now accepted that he lived and wrote in the late fourteenth century, during the reign of Hayam Wuruk in the Majapahit kingdom.8 The telling of the story recounted in the kakawin of Tantular agrees with that of the Sanskrit and the Old Javanese Uttara Kandha, and again mentions that Wisrawa was engaged in devotions when Kaikesi came to him. In the kakawin, however, there is no mention of inauspiciousness, and Kaikesi is said to have been granted favors by the great sage as he answered her request for


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children. The kakawin also describes how Sumali’s daughter Kaikesi “assumed a form unlike that of a descendant of the great demons; as a goddess in visible form descending into the world.”9 Supomo recounts that there are more than twenty manuscripts of the Old Javanese Arjunawijaya Kakawin, coming from Java, Bali, and Lombok, which were copied and recopied over the next few hundred years.10 Concerning the literature of the following centuries, the anonymous encyclopedic collections of eighteenth-century tales in which Ra¯ma¯yanfi a and Maha¯bha¯rata stories were enfolded and transformed, the Serat Pakem Ringgit Purwa or Serat Kandhaning Ringgit Purwa, include examples of how older Indic traditions were blended with Islamic stories. The Serat Kandha, for example, gave the Indic heroes genealogies that led them back to the Islamic Nabi Adam.11 When Islam entered the archipelago, it had already been filtered through the fabric of Indian religious philosophy, which emphasized meditative practice in the effort to contact the divine. Traders, who were often connected with Sufi tariqat (paths or schools of esoteric teachings), brought their interpretations of Islam to the north-coast cities of Java where merchants, who perhaps had not been participants in the elite mystical S´aivite-Buddhist faith of the inland kingdoms, were quick to adopt the new religion, which required no priests or rituals other than the performance of the five pillars of the faith. The mythological carriers of Islam to Java were the nine wali or saints, some known for their spiritual and mystical powers and others known for their knowledge of Islamic textual traditions. In the ensuing centuries, Islamic stories and Indian legends were intertwined in the Serat Kandha texts as they were in the plays of the shadow puppet theater. Serat Kandha tellings of the Arjunawijaya story differ from the older texts; these renderings have more in common with storytelling traditions and shadow theater plays.12 Writing in the early years of the nineteenth century, the British administrator Sir Stamford Raffles recounted a story of Rahwana’s birth, which he took from a Serat Kandha text extant at that time.13 He says that it is to the Serat Kandha “that the modern Javans constantly refer for an explanation of their ancient mythology.” He commented on the many passages in this work “otherwise written in a very correct style” which were “unfit for a chaste ear,” and on his inability to entirely purge this quality from the work. He also mentioned that the word Pepakem was another name for the Serat Kandha. The word pakem is used in modern Javanese to refer to the most stable stories of the wayang purwa repertoire, as well as to written outlines of the stories. The rendering of the story of Rahwana’s birth that Raffles recounts is quite different from the Old Javanese renditions as well as from the later renditions in modern Javanese: Brama then following the example of Narada, purifies himself, and at his desire, first there appears before him a boy of strong make, on whom he confers the name of Brama Tama: secondly, a boy, also of strong make, whom he names Brama Sudarga; and thirdly, a beautiful girl, on whom he confers the name of Bramani Wati.

mysticism and islam in javanese ra¯ ma¯ yanfi a The two boys, when they attained maturity, descended from Suralaya. Brama Sudarga united in marriage with a female from the earth: from them, in the third degree, were descended Raja Sumali and Mangliawan. In the reign of the latter of these a destructive war is stated to have taken place. Mangliawan laid waste Suralaya and slew Sri Gati [Wisnu’s son], but afterwards, when he shewed a desire to possess Sri [Wisnu’s wife], Wisnu exerted all his strength, and put him to death. As Mangliawan expired Wisnu heard a voice saying unto him, “The work is not yet complete; hereafter, when there shall be on the earth a man named Rahwana, who will be descended from Brama Tama, beware of him: in his time the peace of heaven will again be disturbed, and he will lay it waste.” Brama Tama espoused a princess of Champa, named S’rati Dewi, by whom he had a son, named Brama Raja, who became Raja of Indrapuri, and had a son named Chitra Bahar or Angsarwa, to whom, when he became advanced in age, he delivered over charge of the country, proceeding himself into the forests as a devotee, and assuming the name of Resi Tama. Sumali had a daughter named Sukesi Dewi. This prince, alarmed at the accounts of [his brother] Mangliawan’s death, fled with her to Chitra Bahar [his generational uncle and third cousin], and requested him to protect her as a maiden, giving him authority to sanction her marriage on any proper occasion which might offer. He himself fearing the vengeance of Sang yang Guru, fled further into the woods for concealment, but died on the way. Chitra Bahar, forgetting the nature of his charge, became enamoured of the girl [who could have been his grandchild]. This happened when he was performing a penance; for he had two sons, named Misra Warna and Bisa Warna, to the former of whom he had entrusted the charge of his government. The girl resisted on account of his age, but he at last succeeded. During the first amour he received from her nine strokes on the head with a stone. In due time she became pregnant and was delivered of a boy, having nine marks or excrescences on his head, which added to his natural face, making as it were ten fronts to his head: he was thence called Dasa muka (ten-faced). In the second attempt she pulled the lobes of both his ears with great strength, and when delivered she produced a child in the form of a Raksasa, and having immense lobes to the ears: this child was named Amba karna, or long-eared. In the third she scratched him all over, and the fruit of it was a girl, born with long nails and claws at the end of each finger: she was named Sarpa kanaka, or serpentnailed; the wounds inflicted by these nails are said to have been mortal. But the fourth being unresisted, she was delivered of a most beautiful boy, who, having a countenance and mouth beautiful like those of a girl, was named Bibisana.14



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I have quoted this passage at length as it throws interesting light on the development of the story of Rahwana’s birth as well as on the ways in which Indian stories become recontextualized in Java. Several themes and variations that will be stressed in the texts of the story produced in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century courts already have surfaced in the Serat Kandha story. Rather than Sumali emerging from the netherworld as a demon, here Sumali’s ancestor descends from Suralaya. Brama Raja turns his kingdom over to his son Chitra Bahar and retreats to the forest, where he becomes known as Resi Tama. Sumali, who is fleeing from the wrath of Batara Guru, gives his daughter to Chitra Bahar who is supposed to marry her off properly. Instead, Chitra Bahar marries the girl himself, even though he is much older than she. Chitra Bahar, who has turned his kingdom over to his son, falls in love with Sukesi while he is performing a penance or sacrifice. Then follows the explanations of the forms of the children of Chitra Bahar and Sukesi in accordance with the style of their lovemaking. Although it is tempting to see in these folk etymologies indigenous Javanese interpretations, the theme echoes the Indian Maha¯bha¯rata stories of the births of Pa¯nfi dfi u, Dhrfitara¯sfifitra, and Vidura, where the three sons acquire different characteristics according to the degree of revulsion that their various mothers felt for their father, the sage Vya¯sa (Jv. Abiyasa), during the lovemaking act.15 The Indian antecedents and Javanese explanations of the names of Rahwana and his brothers and sister show the recontextualizations of the stories that made them more understandable to their audiences and bring to mind the etymologies (jarwa dhosok) that all Javanese puppeteers create to explain the names of major characters in the wayang stories.16 The importance of the interpretation lies not in an approximation of fact but rather in the ability of the puppeteer to draw together disparate images into a coherent whole. These stories that recount the early history of Rahwana are known as Arjunasasrabahu or Lokapala stories after King Arjunasasrabahu of Lokapala, who finally defeated the demon Rahwana. The Arjunasasrabahu cycle of stories is considered to be the earliest cycle of the Indian-inspired stories from which many Javanese oral and written traditions draw their repertoire. After the Arjunasasrabahu cycle comes the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a cycle and then the Maha¯bha¯rata cycle. The Javanese believe that the action of the earlier cycles took place in the distant past, before the action of the later cycles.

A Story of Rahwana’s Birth in the Late Eighteenth Century In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a so-called renaissance of Javanese literary arts unfolded in the central Javanese courts, in particular in Surakarta, residence of the famous court poets (pujangga), the elder and younger Yasadipura and Ranggawarsita. Ricklefs suggests that this literary renaissance may have fitted into a cyclical pattern of Javanese history that saw an outpouring of literary works at the end of each hundred-year epoch in the

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Javanese calendar.17 The literary revival may have camouflaged not only the Javanese inability to remedy the political situation of the late eighteenth century, where the Dutch were assuming more and more political power, but also the Javanese prophetic tradition that called for a new dynasty to arise at the turn of each hundred-year cycle. I am suggesting that the interest in Maha¯bha¯rata and Ra¯ma¯yanfi a stories at the end of the eighteenth century was inspired by the ways in which those stories of an ancestral past served as allegories of the colonial present. Tales of the rival kingdoms of Ngastina and Ngamarta reflected the growing rivalry between the courts of Surakarta and Yogyakarta, and stories of wars between powerful foreign kings and noble princes served to mirror the expanding power of the Dutch foreigners over the noble princes of Java. The next written text of the story of Rahwana’s birth, although no longer extant, is attributed to this late-eighteenth-century revival. This was the macapat (sung poetry using indigenous Javanese meters) text of Yasadipura I (d. 1803), the famous court poet, which is mentioned in the later macapat text of his son Yasadipura II.18 A text that has survived is the tembang gede (or kawi miring) telling of Yasadipura II, which rendered the Old Javanese kakawin into modern Javanese with metrical forms based on the Sanskrit-derived Old Javanese prosody. Sixteen years later, Yasadipura II wrote a macapat text of the Arjunasasrabahu, the larger work, also called the Arjunawijaya or the Serat Lokapala, which contains the story fragment of Rahwana’s birth. It is the macapat text which Day believes most effectively translated the Old Javanese poetry into modern Javanese poetry, making it comprehensible to the audiences of the nineteenth century.19 The tellings of the story of Rahwana’s birth produced by Yasadipura I and Yasadipura II differ considerably from those recorded in earlier texts.

A Nineteenth-Century Telling of the Story of Rahwana’s Birth This text narrates the actions that take place in three countries: Lokapala, Ngayodya, and Mahispati. What is narrated first takes place in the kingdom of Lokapala. The king is named Wisrawa and he wishes to retire to the forest to undertake ascetic practices. He turns the kingdom over to his son, who is named Dhanapati or Wisrawana. Then it is said that there is a king of the demons named Sumali, who holds his court in Ngalengka. He has one daughter named Sukesi of exceeding beauty. King Dhanapati hears of the beauty of Sukesi and asks his father to make the proposal for the hand of Sukesi. Wisrawa agrees to his son’s wishes and quickly departs for the kingdom of Ngalengka to meet with King Sumali and make the necessary arrangements. Sumali says that he is willing to accede to Wisrawa’s request, but before the marriage can take place he would like Wisrawa to give them mystical teachings that will bring well-being to body and soul in this life and the next. Wisrawa agrees, and Sumali is then given the


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teaching he has requested as well as other mystical teachings. Sukesi is sitting at the back of her father. Batara Guru (Siwa) and his wife Betari Durga descend to the earth and head to the kingdom of Ngalengka, to the very place where the teaching is being given. Guru enters the body of Wisrawa, and Durga enters the body of Sukesi. At that moment, Wisrawa becomes fatally attracted to Sukesi and he asks Sumali if he might marry the girl himself. Sumali and Sukesi both agree, and soon Wisrawa and Sukesi are married. King Dhanapati is waiting for his father’s return when he hears the news that his father has married Sukesi himself. He becomes very angry and orders his soldiers to prepare to go to Ngalengka to fight with Wisrawa. They have not yet departed when the god Endra appears and informs Dhanapati that it is the will of the gods that Sukesi marry Wisrawa. Dhanapati is asked to give up his battle plans, and then he is given two celestial nymphs, Nawangsih and Sasmitaningsih. Dhanapati is satisfied and his anger toward his father disappears.20 In Yasadipura II’s rendering, Waisrawana or Dhanapati, his more common Javanese name, hears of the beautiful Dewi Sukesi, the daughter of Sumali, the king of the ogres, and Dhanapati asks his father, Wisrawa, to arrange the marriage. Sumali is unwilling to give up his daughter unless the sage Wisrawa initiates him into certain esoteric mystical teachings. Wisrawa agrees, and Sumali is so pleased with his new knowledge that he asks if Wisrawa will initiate his daughter Sukesi also. When Wisrawa explains the sastra harjendrayuningrat (sastrajendra) to Sumali and Sukesi,21 the gods in the heavens feel the heat and turmoil (gara-gara) that the unauthorized revelation of this mystical teaching has aroused. Batara Guru (Siwa) and his wife Durga, wishing to punish Wisrawa, descend to earth and incarnate into the bodies of Wisrawa and Sukesi, causing them to fall in love and marry. From this union the three raksasas (ogres), Rahwana, Kumbakarna, and Surpanaka, and the noble Wibisana are born. Dhanapati is enraged when he hears of his father’s marriage. He plans to take up arms against his father until he is calmed by a visit from the god Indra, who offers him two beautiful celestial nymphs to compensate for the loss of Sukesi.22 The new elements in the story center on the conflict between Wisrawa and Dhanapati and the unauthorized expression of the mystical teaching sastrajendra. In speaking of Yasadipura II’s macapat text of 1819, Poerbatjaraka says, “But here resi Wisrawa has already been made to carry out dishonorable actions. He was asked by his son King Dhanaraja to look for a wife; he proceeds to petition the prospective bride on his son’s behalf, and then winds up marrying her himself. These happenings are not found at all in the kakawin rendering of the story. But how or why resi Wisrawa has been made to undertake these dishonorable actions has not yet been investigated.”23 Several scholars give clues that help to explain this new turn of events in the story of Sukesi and Wisrawa. Since the first telling of the story connected with the elder and younger Yasadipura was the macapat text of Yasadipura I,24

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which is dated during the reign of Pakubuwana III (1749–1788), other writings by Yasadipura I might clarify Wisrawa’s dishonorable actions. Soebardi argues that in the Serat Cabolek, Yasadipura I uses a motif that was common in the literary traditions of the period—the conflict between Javanist mysticism and orthodox, legalistic Islam.25 Day says that both Yasadipura I and II were critical of “the sorts of heterodox, intuitive, anti-court and anti-Dutch mystical methods of acquiring knowledge and power.”26 In Day’s opinion, Yasadipura I is a rationalist establishment figure worried about village-style magic and kejawen mysticism. Soebardi, however, presents Yasadipura I as a self-conscious continualist but also as a preserver of secret knowledge in this passage from the Serat Suluk: “The reason that Wisrawa, the rsi, incurred the wrath of God, was because he dared to lift the (Divine) veil, and claimed to be God: This happened a long time ago. Those who behaved in similar fashion were (as follows): during the period of the wali a man named Shaikh Siti Jenar; during the reign of the second ruler of Demak: Pangeran Panggung; and during the period of Mataram: Shaikh Among Raga.”27 Soebardi contends that this passage was written by Yasadipura I for the purpose of establishing continuity between the traditions of the three periods mentioned above with the pre-Islamic period that Wisrawa represented. The characters mentioned above, well known in Javanese literary tradition, all shared the same fate of revealing mystical knowledge to the uninitiated and being put to death or otherwise suffering for their indiscretion. These figures suggest the life of Islamic saint al-Hallaj, who was put to death in Baghdad in the tenth century for the same reason.28 Inappropriate revelation of mystical knowledge was a theme that appeared in many Javanese Islamic textual traditions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Wisrawa, in these particular nineteenth-century tellings of the story, suffers the anger and virulent curses of his own son, comes to actual battle with his son in several interpretations, and, through his marriage to Sukesi, causes the destruction of the raksasa race. Elements of the Yasadipura nineteenth-century rendering of the story of Rahwana’s birth can be seen in the Serat Kandha story recounted by Raffles: an older man inappropriately marries a young maiden intended for someone else; the man falls in love with the younger woman in the course of a penance; Batara Guru takes revenge against the family of Sukesi.29 What is lacking in the Serat Kandha telling of the story is the mystical teaching, which would be more likely to be preserved in an oral rather than written form. The events of the story of Rahwana’s birth that are highlighted in the nineteenth-century texts of Yasadipura II and Sindusastra indicate a preoccupation with problems of religious orthodoxy. Day comments on the number of renditions of the Arjunasasrabahu story that were commissioned by the Solonese kings in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and he isolates Arjunasasrabahu’s victory over Rahwana as the theme of the stories which the audiences of that day probably found most central.30 The inappropriate revelation of mystical knowledge seems to have been an equally pressing subject, as this theme was also stressed in shadow theater tellings of the story.


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Rahwana’s Birth in Shadow Theater Traditions Tracing the story of Rahwana’s birth in shadow theater traditions presents problems, as the only extant sources in an oral tradition date from the present day. There are, however, testimonies from older puppeteers who remember the ways in which the story was handled in earlier times, as well as court summaries of the wayang stories.31 The outstanding feature of this story in the shadow play tradition, or what is significant to the puppeteers about this story, is the mystical teaching, the sastrajendra. Drewes discusses a passage from the Serat Dermagandul that explains the meaning of the sastrajendra, called the sastra rancan in this passage. The attendants give a symbolic interpretation of the different parts of the human body, adding from the Tajussalatin that it exists of 208 parts, 32 teeth, and 1993 veins. In connection with this they stress the importance of the nelmu wirasat (Arab. ilmu ’l-firasa), the knowledge of human character as derived from physical features. In former times this knowledge was kept a secret by the gods, but Resi Wisrawa divulged this secret knowledge to his prospective daughter-in-law, destined for his son Dasamuka (sic). Tempted by Hyang Girinata (Lord Siwa), he became enamored of her and eventually married her himself. Their children were monsters, by way of punishment for his disclosing this secret of the gods.32 This passage contains, perhaps, one of the more clearly Islamic explanations of the mystical teaching sastrajendra, which has become a blanket expression in Javanese mysticism for all types of esoteric and exorcist knowledge. The origin of the expression, which is not found in Old Javanese literature, has been explained in a somewhat orientalist way by Supomo as an example of cacography that arose in the process of rendering the Old Javanese tellings of the Indic stories into modern Javanese.33 The expression sang stryahajong in the kakawin text of Mpu Tantular becomes sastra harjeng in the modern Javanese texts of the Yasadipuras and Sindusastra, and the meaning changes from “beautiful woman” to “auspicious writings.” How and when this phrase became associated with the sorts of heterodox mystical knowledge with which it was associated in the nineteenth century, and with which it is still associated today, is an intriguing question. Some answers to this question might be found in other stories from the Serat Kandha literature of the sixteenth century pasisir culture of the northcoast cities, as Islam was making its accommodation to the remnants of the S´aivite-Buddhist culture of the inland Majapahit kingdom. Certainly the mystical tradition that has survived under the rubric of the term sastrajendra was not brought to Java by the entry of Islam. Rather the term represents the blending of S´aivite-Buddhist and Islamic Sufi mysticism, which enabled Islam to be so easily overlaid on the Indic local traditions of sixteenth- and seventeenthcentury central Java.34 Johns argues that Sufism was an important category in Indonesian history and social life between the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries until the rise of Wahhabism (c. 1800). He believes that the Sufis were

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the ones who brought Islam to Java, and that their effectiveness lay in their ability and willingness to use elements of the non-Islamic culture in order to make Islam acceptable.35 The shadow theater may well have served as a vehicle for this process. Pigeaud has commented on the present-day practice of devout Muslims staying away from wayang performances: “Earlier this must have been otherwise, for it is said that some of the walis, who brought Islam to Java, made wayang puppets and performed as puppeteers themselves.”36 In the shadow puppet theater repertoire, the term sastrajendra has come to represent esoteric knowledge, and the characters Pandu and Bima of the later Maha¯bha¯rata cycle of stories also possess this secret doctrine in the lakon (story) Sena Rodra and Pandu Papa.37 The meaning of the term, however, is far from clear. A teacher from the puppeteering section of the Fine Arts Academy in Solo admits, “Because there has never been a clarification about the contours or the contents of the sastrajendra in the Lokapala text, the result is the mushrooming of various interpretations among the Javanese people in the past and the reverberations of this can still be felt today.”38 Puppeteers and scholars associate the interpretations of the Arjunasasrabahu story that are enacted in the shadow play tradition with the Serat Lokapala of the court poet Sindusastra, a macapat poem written in 1829. This telling of the story differs from the earlier texts of the Yasadipuras, and Poerbatjaraka contends that Sindusastra’s work is based on the Serat Kandha traditions rather than on the kakawin tellings of the story.39 Murtiyasa found that the puppeteers he interviewed in the areas around Solo all associate the lakon, Alap-alapan Sukesi (The marriage of Sukesi), with the Sindusastra text.40 Javanese mystics today can still recite the verses from the Sindusastra text that are connected with the sastrajendra. The two most important verses can be translated very roughly as follows. The sastrajendrayuningrat Is able to liberate all beings Beyond that which can be spoken In knowledge there is no equal. Surrounded by this noble teaching, The end of knowledge, Demons, giants, and ogres, And the creatures in the mountain woods, If they know the meaning Of the sastrajendra They will be liberated by the gods. Reaching the perfect death, Their souls take on human qualities. Incomparable humans. If they know this teaching, They become one with the gods at death, The noble gods. Thus Prabu Sumali


laurie j. sears When he heard his heart, He searched for the meaning of this teaching.41

Although these are the passages from the Sindusastra text associated with the sastrajendra, they only describe the power of the mystical teaching. The knowledge contained in the teaching is not explained and remains open to interpretation. Herein lies the power and permeability of mystical teachings; they always remain open to new interpretations. The shadow theater links poetry and performance and court and village traditions of the story of Rahwana’s birth by its emphasis on the sastrajendra. Speaking of the mystical teaching sastrajendra, Murtiyasa says that he has never seen a puppeteer explain exactly what this teaching is.42 Usually they describe the action of the story in rhythmic prose recitations set to music, and sometimes they use phrases from Sindusastra’s Lokapala. Murtiyasa quotes a local authority on the Solonese shadow theater, Probohardjono, who explained that each puppeteer interprets the sastrajendra according to his or her own inner beliefs or mystical leanings. The village puppeteer Ki Gandawajiran from Boyolali defined the sastrajendra as a magical charm with the power “to exorcise all forms of defilement in the world” (Sastrajendra punika lak saged nglebur sekathahing sukerta).43 In the Sindusastra tradition of the story of Sukesi and Wisrawa, Sumali actually wants to be taught the sastrajendra because he believes it will exorcise his demonic qualities and allow him to be reborn as a human instead of an ogre (raksasa). This interpretation of the sastrajendra as magical charm rather than mystical teaching is another connection between shadow play traditions and the textual traditions of the Serat Lokapala and the Serat Kandha.44 The courtly explication of the sastrajendra as an example of the inappropriate revelation of the oneness of man and god is found in the texts of the Yasadipuras, and represents one possible interpretation of the term held by the educated, court elites. And yet certain village puppeteers today, often those who had some association with the courts in their youth, share this court understanding of the term, and believe in the mystical tradition to which the term refers and which the Yasadipuras were trying to limit.45

The Islam Controversy in Javanese Wayang Yasadipura I tried to limit the heterodox mystical tradition, which must have been widespread in the Javanese countryside of the late eighteenth century. Yet Yasadipura I is also the author of a text of the Dewaruci story, the quintessential text that promulgates the Javanese belief in the absolute identity of man and god.46 Thus Yasadipura’s identification of Wisrawa with such figures as Seh Siti Jenar indicates a belief in the heterodox traditions but an aversion toward the improper revelation of these beliefs. Yasadipura I, an Islamic force at the court, showed his identification with Islam while maintaining his belief in Javanist traditions. The improper revelation of mystical knowledge became associated

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with improper sex in the texts of the Yasadipuras, and both indiscretions became punishable. In their control over the meaning of the sastrajendra, the puppeteers were powerful figures whose performances could either support or subvert the position of the courts. In the nineteenth-century Javanese courts controlled by Dutch power, some Javanese rulers reflected the ambivalence of Yasadipura I. They believed in the power associated with mystical knowledge but they wanted to limit the power of rural Islamic teachers (kyai), who were anticourt although some may have supported those who were anti-Dutch.47 Although the sastrajendra could be interpreted in Islamic mystical terms, the ability of a dhalang (puppet master) in days past to convincingly explicate the sastrajendra according to his or her own mystical beliefs was a mark of power. Dhalang were respected and feared for their command of mystical knowledge. Training for aspiring puppeteers consisted mainly of mystical exercises assigned to them by their parents or other relatives. Although some modern writers insist that Islamic imagery and belief do pervade the wayang tradition, these Islamic elements are difficult to find.48 In fact, older dalang today relate that the wayang is not an appropriate vehicle for sectarian religious teachings—possibly an idea they learned from Dutch scholars. Rather they stress Javanist mystical exercises that associate ascetic practices with the acquisition of power. In this essay I have looked at the transmission of a Ra¯ma¯yanfi a tale in Java through an exploration of Javanese Islamic mystical teachings. The synthesis of Javanist mystical traditions and Islam discussed here was to prove less and less acceptable to those segments of the Javanese population most clearly under colonial control as time went on. For most Javanese, Islamic teachings remained a possible path to spiritual power that meshed well with their kejawen beliefs. In shadow play performances, each puppeteer could interpret the sastrajendra in his or her own way. Today in Java most puppeteers and mystics associate the sastrajendra with kejawen mysticism rather than Islamic traditions.49 What was most Islamic about the nineteenth-century interpretations of the story of Rahwana’s birth was the association of Wisrawa with figures like Seh Siti Jenar.50 By distinguishing between belief in the mystical oneness of individual and god and public expression of that belief, the Javanese equated their understanding of wadhah (vessel) and wiji (seed) with Islamic distinctions between outward behavior and inward conviction. Thus in their acceptance of Islamic belief, Javanese literati molded Islam to suit their own purposes. Although Yasadipura I sided with the ulama (those learned in Islamic teachings) who believed that good external behavior was a necessary part of Islamic religious life, he maintained that the essence of Islam was contained in the Dewaruci story, one of the clearest statements of Javanist mystical teachings.51 Some Javanese today discredit Yasadipura for undermining Javanist traditions.52 By textually punishing Wisrawa for improper revelation of mystical knowledge, Yasadipura I symbolized the accommodation of Islamic authority to Javanist mystical beliefs. By the end of the Java War in 1830, the Dutch had secured their control over Javanese rulers and realms. Although the nineteenth century was to see


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continued unrest in the Javanese countryside, ideas of progress, secular history, and scientific investigation filtered through the thought-worlds of the Dutch administrators whose control over Java penetrated to deeper levels throughout the century. These European ideas influenced the way the Dutch viewed this society so different from their own. In the latter part of the century, the influence of the Romantic movement was felt in Java as the Dutch scholars became fascinated with Java’s ancient Indic heritage. The Dutch colonial government, however, continued to see Javanese Islam and the passions it could ignite as inimical to their rule. Reverberations of the Islamic Wahhabi movement from the Middle East and India, which called for a purification of Islam, had made the mystical doctrines of Sufi belief less acceptable among those who adhered to stricter Islamic beliefs by the second half of the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, the Javanese Islamic Reform movement attempted to fill the place of mystical teachings with scriptural studies, reflecting the Islamic usages to which some Javanese put the new attitudes toward narrative traditions that they had adopted in their interactions with Dutch scholars and administrators. The coincidence of the Dutch scholarly fascination with the “Hindu-Javanese” heritage of Ra¯ma¯yanfi a and Maha¯bha¯rata traditions, and Dutch efforts to suppress and discredit Islam in central Java, led to the creation of new vehicles for the stories in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. notes A different version of this essay was originally published as part of Chapter 1 of Laurie J. Sears, Shadows of Empire: Colonial Discourse and Javanese Tales (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996). I thank Duke University Press for allowing it to be included in this volume. 1. In Soebardi 1975. The Javanese stories Dewaruci and Bhimasuci tell of the mystical exploits of the Maha¯bha¯rata character Bhı¯ma. 2. Foucault [1978] 1990, p. 93. Cf. ibid., pp. 92–96, and Anderson, “The Idea of Power in Javanese Culture” [1972], in Anderson 1990, pp. 21–23, for discussions of power and how it is conceptualized in both Javanese and European worldviews. See also Ricklefs’s critique of American-based scholarship on ideas of power and kingship in precolonial Java (1992), pp. 61 and 62 n. 1). This critique loses much of its sharpness if one reads, for example, Ben Anderson’s 1984 work “Sembah-Sumpah: The Politics of Language and Javanese Culture” republished in Anderson, 1990, p. 203. 3. Zoetmulder 1974, pp. 95–96. 4. Supomo 1977, p. 18. 5. Shastri 1959 vol. 3, pp. 398–399. 6. Zoetmulder 1974, pp. 96–97. 7. Supomo 1977, p. 28; Zoetmulder 1974, p. 83. In citing Javanese sources, I have followed the spelling and orthography in common use. 8. Supomo 1977, pp. 1–15. 9. Ibid., p. 183. 10. Ibid., p. 83. 11. Olthof 1941; Moertono 1981; Padmapuspita 1985. 12. Pigeaud 1938, vol. 1, p. 142; Brandes 1920, pp. 207–208. 13. For more information about Raffles and his brief time of jurisdiction (1811–

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1816) over Java during the Napoleonic wars, see Sears 1996, pp. 13, 48n, 77; and Steenbrink 1993, pp. 73–74. 14. Raffles [1817] 1830, pp. 417–418; 424–426. 15. Cf. Narasimhan 1965, pp. 15–17. 16. Cf. Becker 1979, pp. 236–238. 17. Ricklefs 1974, pp. 187–88. See Florida’s introduction to Writing the Past (c. 1993) for a fresh discussion of the birth of what came to be known as “traditional” Javanese literature. 18. Supomo 1977, p. 338; Day 1981, pp. 54–58. 19. Day 1981, pp. 60–77. 20. Winter 1845, pp. 152–153. Winter’s text gave summaries of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, Bratayuda, and Arjunasasrabahu stories in Javanese script. 21. In her catalogue of the manuscripts held in the library of the Kraton Surakarta, Nancy Florida (c. 1933, pp. 317–319) includes a number of sastrajendra texts in a section entitled Javanese Mysticism or Kejawen. Most of the manuscripts use the name sastraharjendra. Florida describes these texts as Javano-Islamic mystical speculations, usually conversations by “Hindu” deities, and most of the texts she lists were inscribed during the reign of Paku Buwana X (1893–1939. She also includes two Bimasuci texts in this section (KS 577.4; KS 578.2). 22. Drewes 1966, p. 356 n. 52; cf. Winter 1845, pp. 152–53. 23. Poerbatjaraka 1952, p. 138. 24. Supomo 1977, p. 338. 25. Soebardi 1975 p. 43. 26. Day 1981, p. 56 n. 86. 27. Soebardi 1975, p. 38. 28. Johns 1961, pp. 46–48. 29. LOr 6379 as described in Pigeaud 1968, vol. 2, p. 356, in the library of the University of Leiden, records another version of the Serat Kandha. In this version Wisnu and his wife Sri take human shapes in order to resist Rahwana, which suggests the incarnating of Guru and Durga in the bodies of Wisrawa and Sukesi. 30. Day 1981, p. 54 n. 80. 31. Mangkunegara VII 1965. The compilers of this 1965 edition of the lakon collected under the auspices of K.G.P.A.A. Mangkunegara VII over a three-year period from 1930 until 1932, and published by Balai Pustaka, mention in their introduction that the lakon “Sastra Djendra Juningrat” (the story of Sukesi and Wisrawa) was among the three lakon that they added to the Mangkunegara’s original 177. The version of the story that they present is credited to Kamadjaja and U. J. Katidja Wp. This version is very similar to the nineteenth-century version of the story, except for a reference to the relationship between the brothers Sumali and Mangliawan that was recorded in the Serat Kandha. Djambumangli is presented as Mangliawan’s son who lost his chance to rule when the kingdom of Ngalengka went to Sumali, Mangliawan’s brother. Thus Djambumangli wishes to marry Sukesi so he can get control over the kingdom. 32. Drewes 1966, p. 356. 33. Supomo 1964. 34. A Sufi is an Islamic mystic or holy man. Sufis taught a wide array of Islamic teachings as Islam spread east from Mecca, reaching even the southern Philippines, but Sufis are most commonly associated with the most esoteric doctrines of Islamic mysticism. 35. Johns 1961.


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36. Pigeaud 1938, p. 103. 37. Drewes 1966, p. 335, n. 4; Kats 1923, p. 296. 38. B. Murtiyasa 1981, p. 34. 39. Poerbatjaraka 1952, p. 149. Cf. Sunardi 1982. 40. Murtiyasa 1981, p. 17. In Het Javaansche Tooneel, Kats (1923, p. 182) gives a summary of the story of Sukesi and Wisrawa. He then refers the reader who wishes further detail to the work of Sindusastra, “waarmee de inhoud van de lakon’s in hoofdzaak overeenstemt.” (where the substance of the lakon is basically the same). 41. A slight variation of this text was recited to me by the Hindu teacher Bp. Hardjanta during the summer of 1990. The exact text in Sinom meter is taken from Sindusastra 1936, vol. 1, pp. 26–27. 42. Murtiyasa 1981, p. 39. 43. Interview with author, May 22, 1984. 44. The interpretation of sastrajendra as a magical charm brings to mind the performances that are held on Gunung Kawi in East Java by many Chinese-Indonesians seeking to increase their fortunes. These performances generally have no audiences, and the hosts are hoping to receive a boon or blessing for their sponsorship or are giving thanks for a boon they have already received. Sastrajendra interpreted as a boon also connects to the dispensing of wahyu or boons in many wayang stories. What these examples underscore is the plasticity of the sastrajendra. 45. In Solo in 1983, Nancy Florida had a storyteller perform the legend of Seh Siti Jenar, who had been put to death for revealing mystical knowledge to the uninitiated. A puppeteer whose family had strong connections with the Solonese courts in the past and present said that he thought Florida was terlalu berani or “too bold” in holding a performance for the purpose of bringing the Siti Jenar story to the public’s attention. He said that he himself was a follower of Siti Jenar, but that he would not want to make that public, so he chose not to attend the event. 46. Johns 1966–1967, p. 48. 47. Although these literary and dramatic works document an early stage in the transfer of authority from Indic to Islamic models, Ricklefs commented on the literary texts produced in elite Javanese circles in the latter part of the nineteenth century that reject Islam as being a religious tradition foreign to Java. He then concludes: “Whether these texts from the earlier and later nineteenth century spring from two different groups among the elite, or whether (as this writer [Ricklefs] suspects) they reflect a positive growth of a commitment to Islam in elite circles which was stopped short and reversed by the more zealous Muslim proselytizing of the latter years of the century, cannot be known on present evidence.” See Ricklefs 1979, p. 117. Elsewhere I discuss the argument that the Dutch distrust of Islam as a rallying point for antiDutch movements put pressures on Javanese elites to turn away from Islam (Sears 1996; chapter 2). 48. Zarkasi 1977; Mulyono 1975 and 1978. 49. Articles about the sastrajendra have continued to appear in Javanist publications since independence. See, for example, the articles on sastrajendra in the magazine Pandjangmas in 1955, p. 11, and 1958, p. 13. More recently, there was an article on sastrajendra in Gatra, a new name for the older publication called Warta Wayang, in issue No. 7 (1985): 15–23. Most of these publications associate the sastrajendra with Javanist mystical beliefs that relate sounds to mystical points within the body. 50. Although the view that the transmission of mystical teachings should be carefully controlled is found throughout the Islamic world, many Javanese of other religious persuasions as well as Balinese believe that the mystical path is fraught with

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danger. The idea of the dangers of the left-handed path—the quick path to enlightenment in one lifetime—is also a common theme in tantric Buddhism and Hinduism. 51. Soebardi, 1975, pp. 42–43. 52. Oral communication from Pak Hardjanta, July 15, 1990.

references Anderson, Benedict R. O’G. 1990. Language and Power: Exploring Political Cultures in Indonesia. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Becker, A. L. 1979. “Text-Building, Epistemology, and Aesthetics in Javanese Shadow Theatre.” In The Imagination of Reality, edited by A. L. Becker and A. A. Yengoyan. Norwood, N.J.: Ablex. Brandes, J.L.A. 1920. “Pararaton (Ken Arok) Tweede druk bewerkt door N.J. Krom.” Verhandelingen van het Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen 62. Day, J. A. 1981. “Meanings of Change in the Poetry of Nineteenth-Century Java.” Ph.D. dissertation, Cornell University. Drewes, G.W.J. 1966. “The Struggle between Javanism and Islam.” Bijdragen tot de Taal, Land- en Volkenkunde 122. Florida, Nancy. c1993. Javanese Literature in Surakarta Manuscripts. Vol. 1. Ithaca: Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University. Foucault, M. [1978] 1990. The History of Sexuality. Vol. 1. An Introduction. New York: Vintage. Johns, A. H. 1961. “Muslim Mystics and Historical Writing.” In Historians of Southeast Asia, ed., D.G.E. Hall. London: Oxford University Press. ———. 1966–1967. “From Buddhism to Islam.” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 9.1. Kats, J. 1923. Het Javaansche Tooneel, De Wajang Poerwa. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. Weltevreden: Comissie voor de Volkslectuur. K.G.P.A.A. Mangkunegara VII. [1930–2]. 1965. Serat Padhalangan Ringgit Purwa Jogjakarta: U. P. Indonesia. Moertono, S. 1981. State and Statecraft in Old Java. New York: Cornell University Press. Mulyono, I. S. 1975. Asal-usul, Filsafat dan Masa Depannya. Jakarta: Gunung Agung. ———. 1978. Tripama, Watak Satria dan Sastra Jendra. Jakarta: Gunung Agung. Murtiyasa, B. 1981. “Tinjuan lakon Alap-alapan Sukeksi dalam pakeliran padat susunan Soemanto.” Surakarta: Akademi Seni Karawitan Indonesia. Narasimhan, C. V. 1965. The Mahabharata. New York: Columbia University Press. Olthof, W. L., ed. 1941. Poenika serat Babad Tanah Djawi wiwit saking Nabi Adam doemoegi ing tahoen 1647. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff. Padmapuspita, J. 1985. Serat Kandhaning Ringgit Purwa. Jilid 2. Jakarta: Penerbit Djambatan dan KITLV. Pandjangmas (journal). Tahun III/No. 10 (1955); and Tahun IV/No. 2 (1958). Pigeaud, Theodore G. 1938. Javaanse Volksvertoningen. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff. ———. 1968. The Literature of Java. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff. Poerbatjaraka, R. Ng. 1952. Kapustakan Djawi. Djakarta: Penerbit Djambatan. Raffles, Sir Thomas S. [1817] 1830. History of Java. London: John Murray. Ricklefs, M. C. 1974. Jogjakarta under Sultan Mangkubumi, 1749–1792: A History of the Division of Java. London: Oxford University Press. ———. 1979. “Six Centuries of Islamization in Java.” In Conversion to Islam, edited by N. Levitzion. New York: Holmes & Meier.


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———. 1992. “Unity and Disunity in Javanese Political and Religious Thought of the Eighteenth Century.” In Looking in Odd Mirrors: The Java Sea, edited by V. J. H. Houben, H. M. J. Maier, and W. van der Molen. Leiden: Vakgroep Talen en Culturen van Zuidoost-Azie en Oceanie, Rijksuniversiteit te Leiden. Sears, L. J. 1996. Shadows of Empire. Durham: Duke University Press. Shastri, H. P. 1959. The Ramayana of Valmiki. London: Shanti Sadan. Sindusastra, R. Ng. 1936. Serat Lokapala. 2nd ed. Batavia: Bale Pustaka. Soebardi, S. 1975. The Book of Cabolek. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff. Steenbrink, K. A. 1993. Dutch Colonialism and Indonesian Islam. Amsterdam: Rodopi. Sunardi, D. M. 1982. Arjuna Sasrabahu. Jakarti: Balai Pustaka. Supomo, S. 1964. “Sastra Djendra: ‘Ngelmu’ yang timbul karena kakografi.” Majalah Ilmu-Ilmu Sastra Indonesia, 2:177–86. ———. 1977. Arjunawijaya: A Kakawin of Mpu Tantular. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff. Warta Wayang (journal; formerly Gatra). 1985. No. 7: 15–23. Winter, C. F. 1845. De Brata-Joeda, de Rama en de Ardjoena-Sasra, uitgegeven door T. Roorda. Amsterdam: Johannes Muller. Zarkasi, H. E. 1977. Unsur Islam dalam Pewayangan. Bandung: P. T. Alma’arif. Zoetmulder, P. J. 1974. Kalangwan: A Survey of Old Javanese Literature. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

12 Chasing Sı¯ta¯ on a Global/ Local Interface: Where Cartographies Collide, Silent Vessels “Tell in Full” Kaja M. McGowan To become aware of it is to realize that the line between mode of representation and substantive content is as undrawable in cultural analysis as it is in painting; and that fact in turn seems to threaten the objective status of anthropological knowledge by suggesting that its source is not social reality but scholarly artifice.1 The focus is not just the visual appearance of the work of art, but also the relations between the describer and that work. In other words, an awareness of the scene and context and agent of the description is brought to our attention. An ekphrasis is thus to be both a clear representation of visible phenomena, and also, in Clifford Geertz’s fine phrase, “thick description.”2 On October 10, 1999, Indonesian troops opened fire on Australian troops at the border town of Motaain near the north coast of East Timor. The incident was later explained as only a confusion over maps. Whereas the Australians were consulting a 1992 map of Indonesia in general use by Interfet forces, the Indonesians were reportedly referring to a map drawn up by the Dutch in the 1930s.3 This singular collision of cartographies, well publicized for political purposes though comparatively insignificant in terms of either destruction to property or number of casualties, would appear to trivialize or render invisible what has been a continuous and devastating bombardment of local East Timorese mapping systems since 1975. One week later, on October 17, 1999, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Bishop Carlos Belo gave a speech in the yard of his burned-out


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home near the seafront capital of Dili, East Timor. Having returned just twelve days earlier from a brief forced exile, and standing before an elated crowd composed largely of nuns recently returned from refugee camps in West Timor, Belo remarked that soon priests would be returning to their parishes and teachers to their classrooms. Until then, he added, schooling in the Portuguese language would begin again in early November under the mango trees in the yard behind his home.4 Belo’s forced exile resulted when his home and adjoining church (along with 75 percent of East Timor’s buildings) were bombed, burned, and gutted by Indonesian army-backed militias. This wave of terror, murder, and destruction, leaving more than a thousand civilians dead (according to a recent United Nations estimate) and forcing hundreds of thousands of East Timorese to flee from their homes and into the forest, or to refugee camps in neighboring West Timor, came in direct response to the September 4, 1999, announcement of a 78.5 percent vote for independence on the August 30 ballot of a referendum, agreed to by interim president B. J. Habibie less than one year after Suharto’s forced resignation in May of 1998. Though memories of the atrocities have reportedly faded, after three long years of delay by successive Indonesian governments in bringing the military to account, finally March 19, 2002, marked the official beginning of courtroom proceedings in Jakarta for the first four accused military officers to be tried for their crimes in East Timor. Opening the trials has been interpreted in large part as an attempt to placate demands in the United States Congress that Indonesia indict those in the military responsible for human rights violations in East Timor before the nation can receive renewed American military aid. With the Jakarta spotlight, however selectively applied, back on the murder and destruction committed in the days following the referendum, and with renewed promises to Indonesia of U.S. military aid hanging in the balance, it is imperative to return to the site of Bishop Belo’s home as a conscious act of remembering and of bearing witness. Whether Portuguese, Indonesian, English, or Tetum is ultimately taught under the shady trees in the yard behind Bishop Belo’s house, new maps must be drawn up by the East Timorese themselves. How will the language(s) chosen for the new republic, Timor Loro Sa’e, ultimately shape these emerging cartographies? Just last year, President Megawati Sukarnoputri signed a decree that the court would have to restrict itself to only a partial mapping of the atrocities perpetrated during two months in 1999, April and September, and could deal only with the violence in three localities, even though it had engulfed the entire territory. Will East Timorese be able to critically expand these cartographic boundaries circ*mscribed by the Indonesian government in order that their personal, unabridged accounts can be told and heard more effectively? Where both the real and imagined cartographies collide, can the marked preference for envoicing silent objects in Southeast Asian personal narratives, whether orally or textually transmitted, help us to understand the salvaged and recycled testimonies that are emerging? E. V. Walter has remarked that by grasping a sense of place, feeling it on our skin, and carrying its confluence of forces in our memory, we are better

sı¯ta¯ on a global/local interface


prepared to understand who we are and where we are going.5 When viewed in this way, can objects become “seats of experience,” fully activated “artifacts” capable of generating and regenerating compelling cross-cultural biographies of their own?6 The social lives of the artifacts, once mapped, reveal the dynamic force of what Thongchai Winichakul has called a “global/local interface.”7 These potentially far-flung topistic connections are not always evident in an object’s original design and construction, but may be seen to accrue in their ultimate consumption, destruction, and reconstitution. For the purposes of this article, two divergent streams of object-oriented narrative will be investigated, forcing the imagined visual ambivalence of both East Timorese survivors and Indonesian (chiefly Javanese) military elite a chance to approach some kind of convergence through the disparately salvaged detritus of war. The houses of East Timor, reduced to rubble, will serve as sites to be mapped. What will be saved, and what will be relegated to oblivion? Who will be entitled to make these choices? It is the reconstitutions and recontextualizations of objects from out of the wreckage, their curiously entangled, tragic, playful, and even promiscuous transformations from instrument of war to commemorative trophy in Bali’s bustling entrepoˆt or from burned-out rubble to successful eatery in Dili, which will be explored here. Where cartographies collide, can silent vessels be made to bear witness? From the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, the theme of Sı¯ta¯’s abduction by Ra¯vanfi a, intricately embossed on shell-casings, will serve as an interpretive framework for these observations.

East Timorese Heirlooms as Substitutes for Genealogical Reckoning: Who Will Replenish Our Sacred Pitchers? John Taylor has argued convincingly that, contrary to colonialist assumptions, the secret to the resistance of East Timorese over four and a half centuries can be found in part in the rich oral histories supplied in ethnographic and anthropological accounts.8 He suggests that it is the resilient systems of exchange, stimulated by goods, persons, and sacred objects, and not the colonial narratives that will equip us today with a more adequate means for understanding twentieth-century developments. Though it is ill-advised to think of any one ethnography as being indicative of beliefs held by all of East Timor’s various ethnic groups, there does emerge a pervasive theme in the literature whereby the idea of history as a product of genealogical memory is more often mapped on objects than on persons or texts. Elizabeth Traube provides a vivid example in her study of the Mambai of East Timor. She writes, “just as houses do, heirlooms have their own names, personalities, and histories, and the memorizing of their movement from house to house (called ‘the walk of sacred objects’) is frequently used as a substitute for genealogical reckoning.”9 From gathered testimonies, Traube discerns a pattern for determining ancestral authority, whereby junior informants, speaking of their own heirlooms, describe them as first “going out” of a designated senior house. Elsewhere, she recounts how certain heirlooms had the power to return to their place of origin


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on auspicious days, often literally “dragging their owners behind them.”10 The cyclicity of these object-oriented narratives forces us to reexamine the observation made by anthropologist Janet Hoskins on the Kodi of Sumba, an eastern Indonesian society similarly steeped in exchange. Hoskins questions whether a “ ‘person-centered’ ethnography has to be rethought as one that uses objects as metaphors to elicit an indirect account of personal experience.”11 The image of the Mambai being guided by their ancestral heirlooms can perhaps enhance our perceptions of the repeated pronouncements made by journalists surrounding the August 30 referendum, namely, that East Timorese were said to “vote with their feet,” descending from the hills in record numbers, and braving the ruthless militias, as if propelled by some unexplainable force. During the violent outbursts following East Timor’s vote for selfdetermination, serious violations of human rights occurred. These included widespread intimidation, brutal massacres, rape, humiliation, and torture. Due to the overwhelming destruction of property and the large-scale displacement of persons, not only was the basic infrastructure demolished but the very spirit of the people, so traumatized by violence and destruction, has yet to experience an effective and sensitively attuned process for healing, one that respects the rights of East Timorese to speak and to know the truth, and, in time, to achieve some semblance of restitution. What will be the role of objects in mapping these emerging testimonies, particularly in cases concerning sexual abuse, where victims are too intimidated to speak for fear of continuing social stigmatization? How will the new language(s) chosen determine which cultural artifacts will emerge to speak out about the gross injustices that have occurred? How can teachers help the younger generation, many of whom do not remember a time before Indonesia’s violent annexation, to come to terms with their painful pasts in order to make the most of newly promised opportunities for the future? Objects will arguably play an important role in the healing process; where cartographies collide, can these silent vessels be relied upon to “tell in full” under the mango trees? Much like Bishop Belo’s backyard, the historical model for Plato’s Academy, founded in 338 b.c.e., required that disciples live and learn under the trees in a garden with adjoining huts, a shrine to the Muses, and lecture halls. It was Plato’s disciple Horace who expressed the ideal of “searching after truth in the groves of Hekademos.” Hekademos was reputed to be the first ancestor or founding hero, later known as Academus (from whom is derived the word “academe”). E. V. Walter describes how the site of the first academy acquired its earliest identity, meaning, and feeling from prehistoric tradition through the legend of a mythical person. His bones in the soil grounded the spirit of the hero as lord of the place and guardian of the mortals who dwelt there.12 In many East Timorese myths, fruit-bearing trees likewise come to symbolize the sacred world of knowledge—the origin house—composed from the body of the first ancestor and, therefore, the symbolic womblike vessel for the accretion of exchange valuables. In a Carabaulo Tetum origin myth, for example, a prince steals his intended bride, Bui Lailua, daughter of a buffalo. Offended, the mother buffalo pursues the couple, reducing their first house to

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rubble in her rage. Then she enters a sacred tree. When this “tree of many fruits” is cut down, it blossoms again four days later—its sprouting horns, leafy hide, and bark-covered limbs transformed into a powerful object-oriented portrait of the progenitor, an interior map of sacred heirlooms intended for the new house of the conjugal pair. According to the story, “the trunk had become a pregnant stone, the buffalo’s horns were now made of gold, her hide was a magnificent piece of cloth, and her bones made of gold and silver. They carried their treasures home.”13 The symbolic classification of many societies equates “home” with rooms, wombs, and tombs.14 In the English language, the resemblance is only phonetically apparent, but in Tetum the correlation is so complete that the same word, lolon, signals all three types of container. According to Tetum beliefs, the back of the house is perceived, symbolically, as the wife’s womb (uma lolon). Every living member of a household owns a small sacred water vessel, red in color, and made of local clay and sand, called u’e lolo oan (or “little womb”). Soon after birth a mother fills a vessel with cool water taken from one of the large pitchers standing in the uma lolon. When a child leaves for more than a month, his mother replenishes the child’s sacred pitcher and keeps water in it until he returns. When someone born into the household marries outside, the bride or groom, as the case may be, takes the sacred pitcher from the original ritual shelf to his or her new home. The vessels of a married couple are later joined by the pitchers of their children. If the most desirable arrangements of postmarital residence and inheritance are fulfilled, a younger son’s sacred vessel stays in the same room from birth to death.15 These vessels are included among one’s possessions in death. Normal deaths take place in the womb-chamber of the house. The pitcher is smashed one year later as part of the postmortem ritual called keta-mate (meaning “destroyed”), a symbolic act that emphasizes final severance, which consists of shattering and mutilating the heirlooms of the deceased (the pitcher, sleeping mat, and clothing). The destroyed remains are then thrown into the jungle to be reintegrated into the sacred womb of the earth. Both the myth of the origin house and the necessary rites of severance require a systematic shattering of the map of genealogical memory en route to reintegration into the sacred world. But what happens when the cartographic strategies of more powerful nations collide irreversibly with the various local mapping systems of the East Timorese, resulting in the splitting and felling of the island’s proverbial trees: the raping, looting, and annihilation of ancestral homes, schools, and churches? What happens to the bodies of those who died abnormal deaths? When houses are reduced to rubble, what happens to the “walk of sacred objects” within? Who will replenish the proverbial pitchers for the departed East Timorese, both for those who have died and for the countless still in refugee camps in West Timor? According to Jose “Xanana” Gusmao, once popular leader of the resistance and soon-to-be-elected president of Timor Loro Sa’e, these self-same houses/trees will bear fruit again as the fledgling nation begins to engage in international exchange, not only importing goods from overseas and developing tourism at home, but through the exportation of cof-


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fee, vanilla, sandalwood products, oil, and gas. At the moment, however, East Timor’s only real income is limited to the export of coffee. Food, clothing, construction materials, and other basic necessities must still be imported from neighboring countries at a far greater cost. If the current gulf between the income of UNTAET (United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor) personnel continues to widen in marked contrast to the abject poverty and prevalent unemployment of the majority of East Timorese, the seeds for more destruction and devastation are inevitably being sown. Surely the recent tragic experiences of the East Timorese, both on the land and in the surrounding sea that currently holds so many scattered bones of innocent victims, can become a place for learning, a border seen as a bridge not only on a local but on a global scale where all countries involved must address their respective roles and continued responsibilities in what should be remembered as one of the worst crimes of the twentieth century.16

From Sacred Bowls to Shell Casings: Indonesian Commemorative Vessels for a Military Elite One afternoon in 1991, I first visited the artist, I Made Sekar, at his home and workshop in Kamasan, Klungkung, Bali. I had arrived to begin my research in Indonesia at the height of the Persian Gulf crisis. Each evening, I would sit with Balinese friends who were engrossed in watching the media’s role in the war, especially the nightly pyrotechnic displays of lights in the Gulf skies and the spectacle of laser-guided glider bombs, and Tomahawk missiles piloted by Digital Scene Matching Area Correlation technologies that were explicitly seductive advertisem*nts for the power of the media commodity itself. (“Rudal Scuds,” the Balinese diminutively called these tomahawk missiles, as if they were toys. That year “Rudal Scuds” were deployed in silver foil on giant floats, replacing the traditional Balinese demons [ra¯ksfiasa] and, from the year before, cinematically inspired Native American war chiefs, in the Balinese equivalent of a New Year’s celebration in March surrounding Hari Nyepi, when giant floats of monstrous creatures [ogoh-ogoh] are paraded about in the streets near the central square in Denpasar and then destroyed as the New Year begins on a symbolically clean slate.)17 I was first led to Sekar, and other artists like him, when reading the Bali Post one day. A cartoon caught my eye, depicting the drama of the war in the Persian Gulf with missiles flying over a desert landscape (see figure 12.1). Beneath the missiles, a man is seated. Dressed in a deftly folded cloth hat and white ceremonial attire, he appears unaffected by the chaos surrounding him. Seated on a woven mat with a stack of large shell casings beside him, he resembles a salesman bartering his wares in a bustling market. A sign over his head describes this man as a shell-case artisan (pengrajin selongsong) in the somewhat precarious process of collecting his materials for his trade. The war in the Persian Gulf represented a war openly fought for control over dwindling oil resources; it is perhaps interesting to compare what was clearly the intense

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figure 12.1. Cartoon in the Bali Post, January 1991, in response to the Gulf War, with the caption “Pengrajin Selongsong Peluru” (shell-casing artisan). media footage on the Gulf War with the relative invisibility of the war in East Timor, where potential oil and gas resources are also politically and economically at stake for global investors. When asked, Sekar describes his carved shell casings as transforming “the detritus of war to decorate a peaceful situation” (sisa sisa perang untuk menghiasi suasana perdamaian). Using a hammer and a punch with a rounded edge, Sekar outlines figures in a stylized landscape with a series of overlapping indentations. Then with a variety of handmade tools, he fills in and shades the design. Employing a technique called “chasing” on this highly polished covered vessel, Sekar reveals how each implement leaves its mark, from a profusion of tiny pinpricks to deeper impressions (see figures 12.2 and 12.3). After heating sheets of brass until they are pliable, one of Sekar’s young apprentices can be seen shaping a series of conoids on a special anvil. These lids are uniquely fabricated for the purpose of returning the already spent casings to the “ghosts” (hantu) of their formerly lethal incarnations, quite literally “chasing them back” with petalled incisions into tight lotus buds. Sekar’s name, by the way, means “flower” in high Balinese. Originally trained as a silversmith to carve ceremonial bowls in Kamasan, Sekar embarked on his comparatively lucrative shell-casing industry in 1977, when the wife of the national hero, Josaphat Sudarso, brought a previously fired naval shell casing to his workshop. (Born in Salatiga in 1925, Sudarso


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figure 12.2. A brass vessel depicting “The Abduction of Sı¯ta¯ by the

Demon-King Ra¯vanfi a,” inspired by the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, by I Made Sekar, Banjar Kamasan, Klungkung, Bali, Indonesia, 1995. Embossed and chased shell casing for a U.S.-manufactured M48 B-1 76mm recoilless rifle. Height, 64.5 cm; diameter at the base, 4.5 cm. Author’s private collection. Photograph by Bill Staffeld.

was commemorated by Suharto’s New Order regime in 1973 for his involvement in the campaign to seize Irian Jaya from the Dutch in 1962.) Accompanied by a lieutenant colonel of the Indonesian armed forces, Mrs. Sudarso commissioned Sekar to carve the story of her husband’s heroism in the face of adversity, when he and his crew on the naval frigate known as KRI Macan Tutul were fired upon by Dutch planes. Moments later, the ship foundered and sank beneath the waves in the Aru Sea. Finding himself unable to compose a more contemporary battle, Sekar turned to what he knew best, a scene from the Bharatayudha War in the Maha¯bha¯rata. During the year, I visited Sekar a few times at his home and workshop in

figure 12.3. Detail of Sı¯ta¯’s abduction from Figure 12.2. Photograph by Bill Staffeld.



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figure 12.4. I Made Sekar seated on the front step of his home. Photograph by Kaja M. McGowan.

Kamasan (see figure 12.4). He spoke repeatedly of Jakarta as the source of his good fortune (rejeki), in the guise first of Mrs. Sudarso and then of General M. Jusuf. In the 1980s, Jusuf began inviting many of his elite military cronies to see Sekar at work, and to commission a flurry of commemorative shells. Sekar described how frequently these military officials would bring boxes of shell casings in a variety of sizes for Sekar’s use, as part of the payment. He reported that one naval shell had not been fired prior to its arrival in Kamasan. Sekar’s older apprentice pointed to the extensive scars on his torso and neck as a consequence of being the one to first apply heat to the still-loaded cartridge. Sekar recalled how the roof of the workshop had been entirely removed by the explosion. When asked if the vast majority of spent shells, stockpiled in a back room, probably came from the ongoing war in East Timor, Sekar maintained that the generals had always assured him that these shells were left over from military exercises (latihan militer saja).18 A flurry of commemorative shells were commissioned in the 1980s and early 1990s. Sekar remarked with a wistful smile that suddenly it was “raining bullets” (dihujani peluru). He immediately began to renovate his house. He then resurrected and expanded his workshop, hiring more local apprentices to help him carry out his commissions. Sekar insisted that part of what made these vessels so desirable to his Jakarta clientele was their limited supply. With new orders streaming in, Sekar was inspired to extend his repertoire to include scenes not only from the Maha¯bha¯rata but from the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, as well. One image frequently incised on traditional Balinese offering bowls and painted on Hindu ancestral seats, shaped much like miniature palanquin (jem-

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figure 12.5. Painting depicting Sı¯ta¯’s abduction by Ra¯vanfi a on the back of a Balinese portable shrine (jempana). Photograph from F. A. Wagner, Indonesia: The Art of an Island Group (London: Baden Baden, 1959).

pana), is that of Sı¯ta¯ being abducted by Ra¯vanfi a, the demon-king of Lan˙ka¯ (see figure 12.5). As the story goes, while exiled to the Danfi dfi aka forest, Ra¯ma, accompanied by his brother Laksfi manfi a and his beloved bride Sı¯ta¯, takes up residence in a house adjoining a hermitage. Charmed by a golden deer, Sı¯ta¯ encourages first Ra¯ma and then Laksfi manfi a, to follow the creature into the forest. Once they are away from the house, Ra¯vanfi a, disguised as a wandering brahman priest, gains admittance. When Sı¯ta¯ spurns his advances, Ra¯vanfi a changes back into his demonic form and overpowers Sı¯ta¯, who bravely resists. Sı¯ta¯ is abducted and carried off to Ra¯vanfi a’s island kingdom of Lan˙ka¯. As they fly away, Jatfia¯yu, the faithful Garudfi a bird, flies after Ra¯vanfi a to defend Sı¯ta¯’s honor to the end. Jatfia¯yu is mortally wounded, and Sı¯ta¯, in final desperation, drops a clue that is picked up by some monkeys. This information is presented later to Ra¯ma, who then prepares with simian forces to build a causeway of stone and storm the ramparts of Ra¯vanfi a’s mighty fortress.19 Why did Sekar select this image for depiction on the shell casing? Does the narrative of Ra¯vanfi a’s flight over the ocean to Lan˙ka¯, with Sı¯ta¯ as helpless victim in tow, confer symbolic movement upon this recycled bullet, which, once discharged from a recoilless rifle either positioned on the deck of a naval frigate in Dili’s harbor or deployed, one round at a time, from the back of a military jeep, likewise whizzed through the air taking out unsuspecting victims in its wake?20 A single bullet from a 76-millimeter M48 B–1 U.S. naval gun,


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shot from a recoilless rifle at close range, can knock out an entire building or level a bunker. As these bullets strike the walls of houses in Dili, for example, their projectiles disengage, resulting in an explosion capable of shattering homes beyond recognition. The spent casings, collected by the army, are then immediately removed from the crime scene before they can be evaluated as potential forensic evidence. Brought to Bali by the boxful, these casings are physically modified as trophies of war, souvenirs that not only commemorate the making of generals (many Indonesian military careers were established on East Timor), but also renew their sense of fraternity with American military might and power.21 The capacities for objects to serve as traces of authentic experience is, in fact, exemplified here by what is salvaged and reconstituted for the sake of nationalist memory. As the tragic testimonies of East Timorese begin to emerge in print without the immediate fear of reprisals, the possibility of a culturally comparative approach emerges, whereby the perverse recontextualizations of the shattered life of war-torn things can be forced to partake in a dialogue. Oliver Wolters has encouraged a process for “restoring the effects of foreign fragments when they retreat into local cultural ambiences,” arguing that the term “localization” has the merit of calling our attention to something else outside the foreign materials.22 His is a language in which foreign elements are seemingly fickle, forever “retreating” or “advancing” in intractable ways into local statements. Alien materials either “enhance,” “amplify,” “intensify,” or have the opposite effect of “shrinking” to the status of the purely decorative. I would like to expand Wolter’s idea to explore a veritable collision of cartographies, where the foreign element—in this case, a 76-millimeter U.S.-manufactured bullet—explodes on the local scene, annihilating itself as it pulverizes its surroundings, reducing the immediate global/local interface to scattered fragments that must be salvaged forensically in parts and pieces in order to be understood. In any collision, one strikes while the other is stricken. What of the detritus of war remains profoundly foreign, and what is localized? What fragments are retrieved, recycled, and what is discarded, deemed disposable? Who makes these decisions? What parts and pieces are inscribed with epic narratives, transformed into monumental trophies that honor military service and are placed proudly on pedestals for visual consumption; while other fragments, accommodating local accounts, dissolve, like the sacred clay pitchers, into ephemera with the coming of the rainy season, or are hastily buried in shallow graves or wells? Whose bruised bodies are exonerated, while the wounds of others are concealed? Whose battered house walls are left in ruins, while others are swiftly spackled, puttied, and repainted? Can the monumental and ephemeral, the visible and invisible, the foreign as “global,” and the ever-shifting and multiplying sites called “local” secure common ground for their mutually emerging narratives? And finally, can such an artificially reconstituted juxtaposition help to encourage a shared sense of responsibility? While charting these shattered cartographies, I would like to render problematic the tendency for theoretically oriented scholars either to read a work

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of literature spatially, as one might view the bas-reliefs depicting the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a at Angkor Vat, for example; or to decode this Angkorian relief semiotically, as if it were a text. Both of these adventures in close reading tend to limit and level the playing field to a clever textual exegesis that looks for possible localized variants, oral and/or literary, carefully attempting to analyze those points where perhaps a later rendition of a text either departs or converges with, in the case of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, Va¯lmı¯ki’s original. 23 More promising from the perspective of a potentially gendered reading is an ekphrastic approach, which explores the dynamic struggle between text and image. James Heffernan offers an invaluable discussion of the development in the West of ekphrasis (from the Greek ek-phrassein: “to speak out,” and “to tell in full”), originally one of the more advanced rhetorical exercises in a Sophist handbook of style entitled the Progymnasmata.24 From Homer’s Iliad to John Ashbery’s 1974 poem “Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” Heffernan reveals how ekphrasis continually stages what he refers to as “a contest between rival modes of representation: between the driving force of the narrating word and the stubborn resistance of the fixed image.”25 The earliest classical examples of ekphrasis describe shields from epic literature: Homer’s shield of Achilles in book 18 of the Iliad; the Hesiodic fragment entitled “Shield of Herakles,” and, of course, Virgil’s description of Aeneas’s shield in book 8 of the Aeneid. What is most persuasive about these early descriptions of objects is that they are not nominally works of art but more often utilitarian things, simultaneously biographical and portable—shields, cups, cloaks, and woven tapestries.26 Ekphrasis is intertextual. To borrow W. J. T. Mitchell’s pun, it is as much about “citing” artworks as it is about “sighting” them. I would add a third element to the wordplay here, by suggesting the importance of grasping a sense of place, thereby “siting” the object as well within its various cartographic domain(s) of desire. Most conducive for a cross-cultural comparative approach is Heffernan’s discussion of the struggle between text and image as a “duel between male and female gazes.” He describes the ambivalence of the gendered contest of power as one where the voice of male speech is “striving to control a female image that is both alluring and threatening, of male narrative striving to overcome the fixating impact of beauty poised in space.”27 In The Shadow of Mount Ramelau: The Impact of the Occupation of East Timor, George J. Aditjondro likens the relationship of East Timor to Indonesia as “the gagged and bound victim of a rape” who is “deemed to have enjoyed its own violation.”28 The symbolic meaning of rape in this context is as powerful as the act itself. Sekar’s image of Sı¯ta¯ on the shell casing comes to mind. There is little trauma in Sı¯ta¯’s facial expression as depicted by Sekar. She does not seem to struggle, or even break a sweat. In fact, she almost appears to be smiling as Ra¯vanfi a sweeps her off her feet en route to Lanfi ka¯. As Virginia Sapiro has pointed out, “The control over women’s sexuality has often been played out in intergroup conflict through the dynamics of rape. . . . What we might call ‘the politics of honor’ [is] played out between groups through the medium of women’s sexuality. The assault on the enemy involves a wide range of phys-


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ical and psychological tactics, but one of the most notable means of assaulting the honor or pride of a nation or community is to assault the honor of its women through rape.”29 It is in the ambiguities of this global/local interface, the junctures between the iconophobic and the iconophilic aspects of rape as either referencing Indonesia’s male honor and virility or East Timor’s loss thereof through the victimization of her women—the diluting or derailing of genealogical memory, comparable perhaps to the shattering of Carabaulo Tetum clay pitchers—that Sekar’s chased shell casing can be read in multiple ways. But who and what are being glorified in Sekar’s brass vessel? If we call on it as an object to “tell in full,” how many versions of the story can it communicate? As we literally chase the images around and around with our eyes; who is being honored here, and what are we being asked to remember? Sekar assured me repeatedly that it was he alone, and not his wealthy Javanese patrons, who chose which themes to depict on these brass vessels. If so, I ask again, why did Sekar choose this particular image? Can his thematic choice be interpreted either as direct complicity with his patrons or as a subtly scathing critique (albeit unintended) of the Indonesian military in their treatment of women?30 Sekar would emphatically deny either interpretation. His repeated statements to me when I suggested the possibility of such diverse readings was that he was only attempting to turn something lethal and violent into something peaceful and beautiful. In his search for inspiration, Sekar turned to what he knew best, namely, to his training as a carver of sacred bowls for Balinese ceremonies. In order to understand Sekar’s provocative choice of subject matter, we must try to divine what Sı¯ta¯’s abduction might mean within the sacred domain of Balinese ritual. Beyond the earlier symbolic connection made between Ra¯vanfi a’s urgent flight and the movement of a speeding bullet, traditional Balinese ceremonial bowls and sacred ancestral seats are likewise transported through the air, carried in rituals where circumambulation often occurs as a patterned response to group prayer. Like the body of Sı¯ta¯, the sacred bowl and/or ancestral seat is repeatedly lifted and carried across the landscape. On ceremonial occasions, these containers for ancestral forces may be transported from the comfort of a house to a new landscape, the sea for example, where the figures can be cleansed and purified before they are returned to their ritual domain in the house or village temple. One side of a ninth- to tenth-century ornately carved gold bowl, uncovered along with a hoard of other ceremonial objects near the village of Plosokuning, Wonoboyo, central Java, and now at the Jakarta National Museum, prominently depicts Sı¯ta¯’s abduction by Ra¯vanfi a. More interesting to reconsider is the choice of theme, where Sı¯ta¯’s abduction (or rape [perkosaan], as it is often referred to in Indonesia), as depicted on the vessel, is juxtaposed with themes related to the harvesting of certain crops, rice in particular. Rice in Bali is connected symbolically to the goddess Sri; it is also indirectly tied to Sı¯ta¯ through her connection with agriculture. The Balinese terms for the maturation of a rice crop are synonymous with the development of a child in the womb. When Dewi Sri, personified in the rice

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plant, is ready to be harvested (or “pregnant”) in Bali, she is said to be at her most vulnerable. It is then that interlocking rhythms (oncangan) are sometimes played. These resonating sounds are thought to exorcise the demons, like Ra¯vanfi a, who lie in wait to attack the fertile crop. The terminology used is often sexually explicit, even violent in its connotations. When the rice is ready to be harvested in Bali, the knife (anggapan) must be concealed in the right hand so that the ripe plants will not be afraid as they are cut and harvested in tied bundles. As I mentioned earlier, within many epic traditions, the theme of rape is frequently associated symbolically with the harvest. The image of the fertile woman’s body as “harvested” refers not only to the land through the various sacrificial myths of the rice maiden, or the suffering nation as an allegorical symbol but, in the case of Bali, perhaps can also be seen to allude to the land being owned not by the living but by the ancestral gods, who when invited to descend into offerings in sacred bowls are said to “beg for rice” (nunas nasi). On the shell casing, the symbolic meaning of rape and abduction in this, Sekar’s simultaneous production and staging of metal, text, and world, can be seen to be as powerful as the act itself. And yet, when I asked Sekar, it was clear that the generals from Jakarta had not commissioned or requested this theme as indicative of male honor or bravery. Sekar alone had selected it because it was a traditionally depicted segment from the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, one he knew well and had embossed many times on sacred offering bowls. When asked, Sekar appeared ill-informed or even ignorant of any relationship to the abusive activities of soldiers stationed in East Timor. His sole desire was to “decorate” (menghiasi) something lethal into something peaceful, a lotus bud. By turning to his repertoire of themes from sacred vessels, Sekar in part unwittingly sets into motion a powerfully ambiguous message, which can be read in its cyclicity as either an exoneration of Indonesian male virility or as evidence of a brutal pattern of sexual practice, damning in its confessional seriality. The image can also be read as one of ultimate victory or a return to safety for East Timorese victims in that, as Sekar repeatedly pointed out, the form of the bullet will never allow Sı¯ta¯ to experience the complete brutality of Ra¯vanfi a’s abduction because the narrative is incessantly vanquished by the bullet’s return to the lotus. In the virtual multiplicity of possible readings, depending entirely upon who is witness to the cyclic patterns of intended or aborted flight, Sekar’s brass vessel reveals a complex interface of global and local encounters in a proliferation of possible places. Can Sekar’s lidded vessel, once opened (see figure 12.6), speak out for East Timorese concerns? In the emerging testimonies from East Timor, there appears to be a direct correlation between the threats to women’s bodies and their houses. In the workshops arranged by UNTAET and East Timor’s Jurists Association (ANMEFTIL) after the post-ballot rampage, many East Timorese women are now coming forward to relate how, in the hours prior to the August 30 referendum, they were threatened with rape and the loss of their identity cards if they voted for independence. These threats were similarly directed toward the house as a symbolically female domain. An American Associated Press correspondent in Dili wrote: “In a hopeless gesture of home-making,


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figure 12.6. “Open Vessel.” Photograph by Bill Staffeld. Nica Sousa has pinned a magazine image of Diana, Princess of Wales, to the wall of her former living room in suburban Dili. . . . Apart from the picture, debris is all the house contains. . . . In 23 year old Ms. Sousa’s former bedroom, the militia who destroyed her house left a message in red chalk: “If you [had not] voted for autonomy, we would not have destroyed your house.”31 Here the body of the woman mapped on the house, as in the Carabaulo Tetum origin myth collected by Hicks, encourages a reexamination of Sekar’s narrative selection. Sı¯ta¯’s abduction from her home at the hands of Ra¯vanfi a, when read and reread in its abrupt and abortive cyclicity, suggests the repeated threats and intimidation tactics of the Indonesian army-backed militias. Jatfia¯yu, on the other hand, barely lifting a feather to assist Sı¯ta¯ in her terror, can perhaps be interpreted as Indonesia, whose symbol is the Garudfi a bird, here revealing its full complicity with the activities of the Ra¯vanfi a-like militias. And, finally, where content encounters material form, Jatfia¯yu, with pinfeathers raised like a quiver of arrows, can be seen literally to be armed and financed by the United

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States, as evidenced by the very reflective surface in which he is chased. Note the ekphrastic quality of Nica Sousa’s testimony as construed by the Associated Press correspondent. It is as if the photograph of Diana, Princess of Wales, serves as the visual mooring (according to Heffernan, a female image in confrontation with a male narrative gaze): the moment of stasis in an otherwise chaotic description of an interior. Many of the house narratives emerging from East Timor seem to utilize the ekphrastic device of describing a single object— a photograph, a crucifix, a statue of the Virgin, a candle that has been blessed, an overturned child’s tub—as a mooring around which to visualize the indeterminate rubble and debris. Whereas the profits from Sekar’s new patronage led to his renovation and expansion of his house, the bullets, once deployed, resulted in the shattering of East Timorese homes. These demolished-house narratives can be read in relation to Sekar’s success, both reflecting “localizations” that have been altered significantly by their encounter with Indonesian military greed and ambition. Since I began this discussion of “collision of cartographies” with Bishop Belo’s October 17, 1999, address, given in the yard of his burned-out home, I will now return momentarily to the following detailed testimony offered by a witness who had sought refuge in Belo’s compound on Saturday, September 4. The witness describes how the Aitarak militia arrived two days later, aided by police and Indonesian military. He relates how the bishop’s compound was razed, utilizing a mixture of automatic weapons and homemade water-bottle bombs filled with gasoline. Ordered to vacate the bishop’s premises, the refugees were forced to sit directly under the sun as they watched the unfolding events: Next to be attacked was the Sister of Canosian’s house. The militia began to shoot in front of the sister’s house while screaming that if all of you (sisters) don’t get out of the house we will burn all of your houses along with you. Hearing this the sisters ran outside carrying objects used for mass such as chalices, etc. . . . Those sisters joined us. After making us sit in the sun for two hours, they ordered us to take our things inside. After taking our things inside, they threatened us to leave the bishop’s residence because if we didn’t leave, they would attack all of us later at 5:00 in the evening (17:00). We ran outside carrying as much of our things as we could. Here the chalice in the arms of a Sister of Canosian, being carried in and out of the sacred house as the militias repeatedly threaten, reveals a cyclical pattern, simultaneously indeterminate and terrifying in its ambiguity. The brave Canosian Sister carrying the receptacle for the symbolic blood of Christ (perceived perhaps by some as a Catholic variant on the Carabaulo Tetum family pitchers) when viewed in relation to Sekar’s vessel depicting Sı¯ta¯’s abduction—both descriptive portrayals of symbolic sacrifice, involving women transporting and being transported by vessels (active and being acted upon)— argues for the relevance of looking to the ekphrastic power of objects in the healing process. If East Timor’s current vulnerability as a fledgling nation can


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be better understood historically in relation to Aditjondro’s previous comparison of East Timor to Indonesia as the victim of a rape who has been deemed to have enjoyed its violation—the voice of male speech, according to Heffernan, “striving to control a female image”—then Sı¯ta¯’s plight, chased on Sekar’s shell casing, argues forcefully for our immediate consideration of the role of epic as a genre that stages a continual struggle to narrate the stories of things past in such a way as to make them resonate with the present. Each object retrieved and reconstituted from the wreckage can perhaps be construed as a step toward partial restitution for East Timor’s suffering. As the personal object-oriented testimonies accumulate, if epic serves, then the very process of healing itself, leading both to Sı¯ta¯’s recovery and the problematic reclaiming of her honor, can be compared to the rocks and boulders cast into the sea by Sugrı¯va’s monkey armies who rally with Ra¯ma to build the bridge to Lan˙ka¯. Following Ra¯vanfi a’s abduction of Sı¯ta¯, the building of the causeway, and the great battle that Ra¯ma incites to reclaim his beloved, it is public scandal concerning Sı¯ta¯’s virtue during her forced captivity on Lan˙ka¯ that ultimately drives Ra¯ma to abandon her in the forest. Maintaining her innocence, Sı¯ta¯ consents to a trial by fire, from which she emerges unscathed, only, in some versions of the epic, to be banished again. In a cover story for Time Asia, entitled “Starting Over,” Terry McCarthy writes: “The walls are blackened by fire and graffiti. The windows and doors are gone; a lone crucifix hangs undamaged on the wall. Welcome to Dili’s best restaurant, ‘Uma Mutuk’—the Burned House. At night, oil lamps and candles flicker off the walls as dinner is prepared over open fires in the rear. The food is simple, but the atmosphere is what draws customers. Guests feel ever-so-slightly uneasy, as if they were eating in a church—a feeling the owners do not attempt to dispel.”32 Libania Borges, thirty-eight, and her sister Manuela opened this successful eatery in Dili in January of 2000. Most nights the nine tables are booked solid. Even United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has partaken of the fare. Since the Indonesians invaded East Timor in 1975, the two siblings have been living in Darwin, Australia. When they returned in October 1999 in search of surviving relatives after the army-backed militias had carried out their scorched earth campaign, they found only one family member, their aunt Maria, hiding in fear in the debris that was her home. The two sisters decided to use their savings to transform the house into a restaurant as a way of helping their aunt recover from the trauma of the attack. After four weeks of grueling work clearing the debris, a local carpenter was called in to build a new roof for the structure. “My aunt wanted to clean the walls and paint them,” said Libania, “but we said no—we wanted to leave it the way it [was] to remind the people of what the militias did. What happened here makes me very angry.” Now Libania’s and Manuela’s aunt is alleged to be smiling again. On busy nights, she helps her nieces serve the guests. While much of Dili awaits reconstruction, “Uma Mutuk,” like Sı¯ta¯, has risen from its ashes, both to bear witness and to choose again a new life.

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Building Bridges to the Battles of Lan˙ka¯ Sites as Monuments to Memory or Oblivion? It is precisely epic’s subscription to the challenge of contemporaneity that makes it such a dynamic and powerful art form for us to wrestle with today. It has a role like that of ekphrastic description; we not only come to understand more fully but are ourselves also caught within the social, political, and cultural forces that at once inspire the production of epics and are shaped and directed by them. In the case of the “Battle of Lan˙ka¯” panel at Angkor, Eleanor Mannika has attempted to interpret some of the possible contemporary twelfth-century references to the commissioning and carving of the bas-relief that bears the name. From 1128 to 1133, King Suryavarman II enlisted the Chams as allies in waging war against the Dai Viet in northern Vietnam.33 But by 1135, the Chams refused to uphold their compact with the Khmer, and, several years later, would in turn be invaded unsuccessfully by Suryavarman. In the “Battle of Lan˙ka¯” Sugrı¯va’s simian troops are allied with Ra¯ma to help him overthrow Ra¯vanfi a and his army. Did the artists working at Angkor intend to depict a striking visual corollary between the alliance of the Khmers and Chams against the Dai Viet? If so, according to Mannikka, the artists have judiciously refrained from depicting the outcome of the battle by carefully suspending the action at a series of duels between the protagonists, Ra¯ma and Ra¯vanfi a, whose bodies, enlarged and centrally located, stand prominently poised and isolated in space. If the scene of the “Battle of Lan˙ka¯” at Angkor does indeed refer to King Suryavarman’s affiliation with the Chams, this reflects a shrewd compositional strategy on the part of the artist(s) who were forced to address what Heffernan has called an ekphrastic “duel between text and image.” Their choice reflects considerable cunning, precisely because the Khmer alliance with the Chams and the attacks against the Dai Viet ultimately failed.34 Similarly, on Sekar’s shell casing, two opposing trees can be seen to arrest Ra¯vanfi a’s abduction of Sı¯ta¯ from the seemingly apathetic presence of Jatfia¯yu. Where Sı¯ta¯ faces Jatfia¯yu, her flowing hair, outstretched hand, and billowing sash are embossed evenly, like furrows in a field over the tree’s barklike surface, each extension touching the tips of the bird’s feathers (see figure 12.7). On the other tree, it is Sı¯ta¯’s foot alone that stretches beyond the trunk, her toes trailing behind, suspended, indeed lost in Jatfia¯yu’s ineffectual tail (see figure 12.8). When the shell casing is set in motion, Sı¯ta¯’s bodily extensions and the two trees can be seen to weave together visually. Sı¯ta¯, whose name means “furrow,” is related to the archetypal prehistoric tree and fertility goddess. The image of the brass cylindrical shell casing entwined with the trunk and branches of Sı¯ta¯ as a living ancestral tree would seem to echo visually one of the principal independence monuments soon to be unveiled on the evening of May 19, 2002, accompanying the eight-hour program of festivities to mark East Timor’s transition to formal independence. The monument, a massive flagpole entwined with the trunk and branches of a symbolic banyan tree forged in steel,


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figures 12.7 and 12.8. Close-ups from the shell casing in Figure 12.2. Seen side by side, the composite image revealing Sı¯ta¯ touching the two trees as the shell casing is visually set in motion, as described in the essay. Photographs by Bill Staffeld.

will stand on a hill overlooking Dili, the capital of newly independent Timor Loro S’ae. It will be a momentous occasion when East Timorese finally govern themselves after four centuries of Portuguese rule, twenty-four years of Indonesian occupation, and most recently a two-year stint for the United Nations interim administration (UNTAET). In the last two years, UNTAET’s activities have frequently been compared to the earlier hegemonic regimes, whose seaside haciendas they continue to inhabit, and whose lavish lifestyles and floating hotels (miniature islands of Lan˙ka¯ in the making, complete with their captive women) speak of the gross disparity between the internationals and the locals, and the unwillingness yet again on the part of those in power to relinquish their hold on the untapped potential resources of East Timor. Remembering the ordered

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rows of Cham soldiers embarking with Khmer troops on Angkor’s bas-relief, we might stop to ask who are the new corporate sponsors lining up to secure their affiliation with Timor Loro S’ae? Which companies are offering to help finance the upcoming events and, especially, to sponsor the various monuments being unveiled? Oklahoma-based Phillips Petroleum, an oil company active in the Timor Sea, is vying for position, along with one of Australia’s major banks; and first to respond, although cordially bumped to tertiary status as having the wrong image for the new, devoutly Catholic, nation is Aristocrat, an Australian company specializing in poker and gaming machines. Surprisingly enough, with regard to the independence monument—the flagpole entwined with a banyan tree—there has not been a rush to sponsorship. Hamish McDonald, a reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald, writes: “On a plaque at the base of this $200,000 independence monument will be words of thanks to its corporate sponsor: a generous Australian company, it is hoped. . . . Australia’s top executives may admire the spirit. But how many would put their company’s logo on a monument to 24 years of guerilla resistance or be otherwise associated with a nation whose emergence was so long opposed in many of Asia’s lucrative markets?”35 The immediate hybrid transformations implied as commemorative monuments move along perilous trajectories from zones of danger to relative comfort (or in Sekar’s own words, from the “detritus of war to decorate a peaceful situation”) would appear to resonate in reverse with a compelling short story by the Indonesian author Putu Wijaya, entitled “If He Could Choose Again.” In the story, the main character, Oki, wakes up one morning to find himself hugging a bomb and not his familiar pillow. Quite naturally, he is overcome by a sense of helplessness. Wanting to spare his immediate family and the world, he wanders out into the street, clutching his ticking terror. At a loss to know what to do with the bomb, at last he climbs a flagpole, where he proceeds to wrap his heavy burden, significantly, in the flag. The drama is punctuated by the pillow’s metamorphoses from something comfortable and familiar to something deadly, the wrapped object becoming a trope capable of playing upon the insecurities of the audience, who are, similarly, in rapt attendance beneath the flag. When Oki’s wife finally arrives, she is convinced that the bundle in her husband’s arms is their baby. In a clumsy attempt to save the infant, a misinformed policeman shoots Oki, and the bomb falls with its devastating consequences. Within an instant, the image of a peaceful community with hands outstretched becomes a gruesome scene of chaotic dismemberment. What is more, in a shockingly radical shift of time frame, Putu includes us beneath the flagpole. As witnesses, we are confronted by the gut-wrenching question: “Who is really responsible?”36 Charles Armstrong has recently asked himself a similar question with regard to the tragedy of September 11, 2001. Within the globalizing rhetoric, there has been a tendency to imagine that social science methods are universally applicable, and the dominance of America and the pervasiveness of the English language make the knowledge of other cultures and languages seem almost irrelevant. He urges us to reconsider the importance of place, culture,


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and war. “It is hard to imagine,” Armstrong remarks, “how one can explain recent events with a ‘view from nowhere.’ The study of specific places, histories, cultures and languages is suddenly in vogue once again, and probably will be for some time to come.” Advocating a return to the importance of Asian studies, he argues that “it is precisely those of us who are aware of the complexity and variety of ‘non-western’ cultures who can offer more nuanced interpretations against the simplistic division of humankind into immutable and mutually hostile cultural identities.” Finally, for Armstrong, the study of war seems too important to be left to those with a vested interest in it: the foreign policy think tanks, the intelligence and national security apparatuses, the military academies. It is important to apply a wide range of scholarly methods and resources in attempting to explain how we got to this point of conflict, and where we go from here.37 Armstrong’s thoughts from “Ground Zero” can easily be applied to the events unfolding in East Timor since 1974. Building such comparative bridges to the sites of the various “Battles of Lan˙ka¯” reveals forcefully the epic importance of chasing Sı¯ta¯ on a global/local interface, if only to ensure that all parties involved accept responsibility. Certainly Sekar’s shell casing can be made to bear witness not just to the ongoing trial of the Indonesian military but to America as well: to Ford, Kissinger, and all the presidential players who have been in office since, who continued to sell arms and to train the Indonesian military, right up until the post-ballot atrocities. Set on separate bluffs looking down on Dili’s harbor, two commemorative monuments now stand poised in space as silent witnesses: Christo Rei, a twenty-seven-meter statue of Christ given to East Timor by Indonesia’s former President Suharto, and East Timor’s new Independence Monument, secured at the base of the flagpole/banyan with Australia’s hoped-for sponsorship. Suspended in Dili’s landscape, their conspicuous forms can be seen to echo symbolically an earlier alliance forged between Indonesia and Australia in September of 1974, just prior to Indonesia’s 1975 illegal invasion of East Timor. President Suharto traveled to Yogya to meet with Australia’s then prime minister, Gough Whitlam. As a result of Suharto’s briefing of Whitlam on the question of whether or not to grant self-determination to the East Timorese, Whitlam’s response to Suharto was supposedly immediate: “An independent East Timor would be an unviable state, and a potential threat to the area.”38 While floating hotels, monuments to oblivion, flooded with lights festoon Dili’s harbor below, these two commanding and isolated images, observed in tandem, can be seen to represent an important site of memory. Forging their alliance visually in the mind allows us to locate Christ on the banyan tree of life and of death. His crucifixion on the mound at Golgotha, sacrificing his life so that all humanity may be spared, resonates hauntingly not only with the Carabaulo Tetum origin myth of the mother buffalo described earlier but also with Sı¯ta¯’s ancestral roots. These comparative instances point to ritually ordained sacrificial deaths, leading, respectively, to eternal life, ancestral heirlooms, or a fertile harvest; but what of the bodies of East Timorese who died abnormally in the wake of the August 30 referendum? Still in living memory

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for many East Timorese, and set in the self-same coves where a whole flotilla of hotels float luxuriantly today, under the watchful eye of the Indonesian security forces the militias allegedly executed hundreds of people and dumped their bodies in the water in the fortnight after the results of East Timor’s ballot was announced. Witnesses described huge sharks accustomed to the taste of human flesh circling in the shallows. This frightening image is, perhaps, one to bear in mind as sponsors currently compete for their place in the profits. Ultimately, the sponsorship of commemorative monuments to Timor Loro S’ae’s independence must be seen in light of the current need to prosecute those guilty of violations against humanity going back to 1975. Clearly, there is a growing necessity for an effective international intervention mechanism, coupled with real accountability. Few Timorese expect anything from Indonesian justice. Many speak of the gross imbalance of bringing only the Indonesian military and their militias to trial when, arguably, their actions were spurred on in large part by the interests of other countries in the global community. Had the United States and other influential countries pushed for such a tribunal and been willing to admit their role in the carnage, and had they not allowed Jakarta to pursue the charade of investigating and prosecuting its own, we would not find today the culture of impunity that permits the Indonesian military and the militias to succeed, a culture that will only continue. Commemorative monuments can help us to locate ourselves within such an international arena, a global/local interface—one in which all players must account for their activities. An art object like Sekar’s shell casing depicting “Sı¯ta¯’s abduction” or Angkor’s “Battle of Lan˙ka¯” can allow us to suspend our actions momentarily, to rethink our impetus for involvement with certain countries, and perhaps to choose again. Are we being motivated by humanitarian concerns or pure greed? Are we really trying to help another nation succeed, or are our gestures only fanning the flames of discontent, leading to the building of future bridges to echo the epic Battle of Lan˙ka¯ from contemporary moment to moment? Homi Bhabha has urged us to “acknowledge the force of writing, its metaphoricity and its rhetorical discourse, as a productive matrix which defines the ‘social’ and makes it available as an objective of/for action.”39 In this essay, I have tried to locate a space at the intersection of text and image, from which to observe moments of struggle or political change in all its hybridity. Meditation on Sekar’s shell casing, for example, allows us to posit a space where cartographies have collided, a dialogical realm something like the “Third Space of enunciation” that Bhabha has described. It represents a suspended moment, if you will, between ourselves and others, a global/local interface where potential understandings can emerge without fear of reprisals. In this process, however, both textual and visual space can also converge on difference, disaffection, fragmentation, and dispersion at the heart of knowledge. This presupposes that, as surely as there exists our sovereign space, a space of the other will always prove inaccessible to our understanding. Finally, what kind of audience does ekphrasis encourage us to be? The writer’s responses to visual objects can be seen to become a model for the


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audience’s response. It is important to stress that these “thick” descriptions should serve as reminders to those in attendance that they are witnessing a human response, one of many possible responses, to depicted phenomena, and not the phenomena themselves. Since this battle is fought on the field of language, it would be mismatched save for one thing: Ekphrasis exposes a profound ambivalence toward the visual image, a concurrent feeling of adoration and anxiety. To try to comprehend the shattered world of the East Timorese through words is to try to come to terms with the images selected for personal narratives, the power for objects as sites—Christo Rei, East Timor’s Independence Monument, the Burned House, Christ’s chalice in the arms of the Canosian Sister, and/or Sı¯ta¯’s abduction chased in brass—to fix, astonish, excite, disgust, devastate, or regenerate the viewer. In closing, we may recall Kenneth Gross’s comment: “Ekphrasis would entail not just translating a statue’s language into our own, finding a place for its imagined words in the given world. It would also involve letting the words which the statue speaks unsettle or recreate the words we already seem to know.”40 notes About the photographer: Bill Staffeld is the photographer for the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning and the Department of the History of Art in the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University. Besides his duties at the university, Staffeld is a documentary photographer who works in upstate New York. 1. Geertz 1973, p. 16. 2. Becker 1995, p. 29. 3. A preoccupation of mapmakers for centuries, Timor’s forests of white sandalwood (santalum album L.) lured traders en route to western Indonesia and India from as early as the second or third centuries ce. (Wolters 1967, p. 65). It was China’s source for the aromatic wood during the Sung (Wheatley 1959: 203–4); Timor was later selected by the Portuguese, who, joining an already profitable Asian trade network, determined to settle on the island in the sixteenth century. In 1656, a wellarmed Dutch fleet landed on the western coast of Timor. When Indonesia achieved independence in 1945, all Dutch holdings, including West Timor, were surrendered to Sukarno’s New Republic (Taylor 1991, pp. 1–5). With the illegal invasion of East Timor in 1975, Batara Indra, an Indonesian conglomerate backed by retired generals Moerdani and Kalbuadi, seized control of East Timor’s sandalwood production, exporting not only oil but also Buddhist statues to Taiwan and Catholic statues to Italy (Aditjondro 1999). 4. As East Timorese have slowly begun the process of rebuilding their independent nation under United Nations supervision, the question of which language to adopt has been controversial. Whereas East Timor’s independence leaders have advocated a return to Portuguese, a legacy from more than four hundred years of colonial rule, members of the Renetil Youth Congress—many graduates of Indonesian universities and fluent in Bahasa-Indonesia—have argued the merits of selecting a new language, not reflective of either Portuguese or unauthorized Indonesian domination. Almost 95 percent of Timorese speak either the lingua franca, Tetum, or Indonesian, the teaching of Portuguese having been banned by the New Order regime. More recently, Tetum has been designated as the language of church; Indonesian, the market-

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place; while English and Portuguese are employed for more formal negotiations surrounding the politics of nation building. 5. See Welty, 1957; and Walter 1988, pp. 132–145, for an integrated discussion of what it is like to “grasp a sense of place.” By “grasping,” both authors mean a more full-bodied response than can be experienced with the hands alone. 6. Walter, 1988, p. 130. Referring to Plato’s Timaeus, Walter asserts that metaphors represent place as a “seat of experience.” Igor Kopytoff ’s “cultural biographical” method argues for a processual approach to studying objects. Charting a biography entails observing an object’s transmutations from, for example, sacred status to commodity and back again, a fluid trajectory that often reveals dynamic fluctuations in value and a variety of encounters, simultaneously global and local, that attend and transform an object over time. See Kopytoff 1986. 7. Winichakul 1997, p. 12. 8. Taylor, 1991, pp. 1–3. 9. Traube 1986, pp. 75–76. 10. Ibid. 11. Hoskins 1995, p. 1. 12. See Walter 1988, p. 193. 13. See Hicks 1976, p. 66. 14. For a discussion of East Timorese houses as symbolic wombs, see Waterson 1990, pp. 196–198. 15. According to villagers, the pig supplied to the wife-givers by their wife-takers in the marriage ritual is given “to replace the sacred pitcher the bride brings with her to her husband’s house.” For a detailed discussion of these symbolic connections, see Hicks, 1976, pp. 23, 63–65. 16. Since Ford and Kissinger gave Suharto the go-ahead to invade East Timor in 1975, the United States has sold to Jakarta about 1 billion dollars worth of military equipment. Not only did 90 percent of the weaponry utilized in East Timor since 1975 come from the United States, but America is also responsible for granting diplomatic support and military training for Indonesia’s special forces, many of whom claim to have made their careers in East Timor. Given Indonesia’s weakened economy, if U.S. funds had simply been withheld, Indonesian troops would have been forced to evacuate, and much of the bloodshed and property damage could have been avoided. The prospect of off-shore oil has prompted more powerful countries to ally with Indonesia at the expense of East Timor. The insidious presence of foreign investors can be described as arriving first in the guise of ballistic calling cards, sold to the Indonesian military and deployed so that their projectiles will dislodge on contact, shattering everything in their wake. In the aftermath, powerful countries like Australia, Britain, and the United States can move in, and by offering a hand in the recovery efforts of a fledgling nation, attempt to corner some of her potentially abundant resources. East Timor Questions and Answers. Stephen R. Shalom, Noam Chomsky, and Michael Albert. Z Magazine, September 15, 1999. Consulted at www.chomsky .info/articles/199910–02.htm. 17. During the Persian Gulf Crisis, CNN was observed to come into its own as a global network, eradicating the word “foreign” from all its broadcasts; at one point Saddam Hussein admitted to the press that “we are getting our news from CNN just like everyone else.” Aside from the fact that TV networks like NBC were owned by parent companies that were and are major defense contractors in their own right, we must stop to ask what the relationship is between this economy of the media spectacle and the economy of war and oil consumption that provides the political context for the war.


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18. I was struck in 1991 by how little Sekar, or any Balinese I asked for that matter, seemed to know about what had been going on in East Timor since 1975. Misinformation abounded, particularly regarding the exaggerated importance of Indonesia’s sustained military presence and the supposedly heroic attempts at containment of this so-called “newest and most antagonistic addition to the nation.” Around the military barracks in Denpasar, stereotypes proliferated of the relentless East Timorese guerrilla fighters, whose unpredictable pugnacity and whose ability to evaporate as if into thin air in their mountain settings was almost legendary. 19. The Balinese Ra¯ma¯yanfi a is not derived directly from Va¯lmı¯ki’s version, but rather by way of an Old Javanese Ra¯ma¯yanfi a cycle from the ninth or tenth century, written by Yogiswara in accordance with a later, abbreviated Indian version. See Robson 1980. 20. From discussions with naval personnel at Cornell’s ROTC, it transpires that the United States sold off their outdated recoilless rifles from World War II to many Asian countries, including Korea and Indonesia. The Indonesian military purchased these rifles and their corresponding bullets in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Recoilless rifles were intended for antiaircraft defense, most often blasting away from the decks of ships, targeting planes overhead or strategic buildings on land. General Moerdani’s account of the “liberation” of Dili in 1975 includes a description of the deployment of special forces (Kostrad) on land, fortified from the sea by the navy Marinir brigades, blasting buildings in Dili from the harbor. On land, recoilless rifles are easily loaded onto the backs of military vehicles, with one soldier operating the gun off the back while the other drives. 21. Nicholas Thomas describes a similar process of appropriation in the Western Solomons during the nineteenth century, where the decoration of imported U.S. guns and hatchets with ornate shell inlay reveals, through physical modification, distinctive processes of assimilation. A highly embellished gun, for example, might no longer be prized by Western Solomon islanders for its functional capabilities alone but also for its commemorative potential, that is, as a symbol of their alliance with the U.S. Navy, made historically manifest through the biographical connection with a certain Captain David Porter. (See Thomas 1991, pp. 100, 101, 105–106.) 22. See Wolters [1982] 1999, pp. 65, 57. 23. For more in-depth discussions of origins of the Indonesian Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, see Holt 1967 and Fontein 1990. 24. Heffernan, 1993, p. 1. I would like to acknowledge my gratitude to Stanley J. O’Connor for suggesting this reference. 25. Ibid., pp. 1–8. Aside from Heffernan’s invaluable discussion of ekphrasis, I have also relied on two other important sources: Becker 1995 and Scott, 1994. 26. It is only much later in Philostratus’s Imagines in the second century and Callistratus’s description of fourteen statues in the fourth century that ekphrasis narrows its focus to become a specialized genre devoted to objets d’art. For this essay, however, I choose to observe ekphrasis in its original trappings as describing functional objects, aesthetically pleasing, perhaps, but not viewed as Fine Art. Ekphrasis has the potential to resurface more significantly now in the wake of postmodernist critiques, particularly in the emerging field of visual studies, with its renewed focus on reception theory and the problems of representation. 27. Heffernan makes the following observations with regard to this gendered struggle in Western literature: “In the Aeneid,” he writes, “the fixating power of the image that threatens the forward progress of the hero is decisively linked to pulcherrima Dido, queen of picture-perfect beauty and—like Cleopatra later—a threat to male

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authority. In Keats’ ‘Ode to a Grecian Urn,’ the figures sculpted on the womb-like urn that is called an unravished bride of quietness refuse to cooperate with a male narrative of desire and consummation. And in the Ovidian myth of Philomela, which begets a remarkable series of variations culminating in Shakespeare’s Rape of Lucrece, a picture of rape woven by a mutilated woman unweaves the story told by a man.” Philomela, whose tongue has been cut out, finds the power to speak through a woven textile, which allows her to “unweave the false story told by her male offender.” The power of the woven designs allows her to break through the silence in which women are inextricably and traditionally bound. Heffernan 1993, pp. 1, 6. 28. Aditjondro 1994, pp. 21, 83. 29. See Sapiro 1993, p. 40. This remains a significant aspect of nationalist politics in the Balkans. Margaret Beissinger has remarked that “rape is (and has been throughout the ethnic conflicts in the former Yugoslavia) a powerful ‘mode of warfare,’ because it not only assaults its female victims’ sense of self-respect, but it also shames and thus dishonors their husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons.” See M. Beissinger, “Epic, Gender, and Nationalism: The Development of Nineteenth-Century Balkan Literature,” in Beissinger, Tylus, and Wofford 1999, p. 78. 30. Rape has been used as a tool of intimidation and torture in E. Timor and in other areas in Indonesia where conflicts have arisen. Recently, Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy, U.N. special rapporteur on violence against women, remarked that during the Suharto regime military personnel frequently raped women in East Timor, Aceh, and Irian Jaya. She also confirmed the mass rape of women from Jakarta’s minority Chinese community during riots in May of 1998. 31. The Australian, November 6, 1999, “Despair as Families Face Dili Destruction” (from an AP correspondent in Dili). Consulted at 32. “Cover Story: Starting Over,” by Terry McCarthy in Time Asia, March 20, 2000. Consulted at 33. Maspero 1928, p. 155. 34. Mannikka 1994, p. 135. 35. Hamish McDonald, Sydney Morning Herald, April 4, 2002. Consulted at 36. Putu’s story can be compared to Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of narrative as an attempt to transform the relationship between performer and crowd in dialogic rituals so that spectators acquire the active role of participants in collective processes that are sometimes cathartic and that may symbolize or even create a community. Wijaya has remarked that short stories are like mental time bombs. Drawing upon traditional material as an impetus for addressing current issues and problems, Putu’s stories are intended to make his readers think. However humorous or illogical, he provokes his readers to question values and common assumptions in their lives and in society. See Wijaya 1988. 37. Armstrong 2002. 38. Sydney Morning Herald, November 19, 1974. Also, see Taylor, 1991, p. 32. 39. Bhabha 1989, p. 115. 40. Gross 1989, p. 24.

references Aditjondro, George J. 1994. In the Shadow of Mount Ramelau: The Impact of the Occupation of East Timor. Leiden: INDOC. ———. 1999. “ABRI Inc.” Sydney Morning Herald, August 5.


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Armstrong, Charles. 2002. “Viewpoints.” AAS Newsletter, 47. 1: 10–11. Bakhtin, Mikhail Mikhailovich. 1981. The Dialogical Imagination: Four Essays. Edited and translated by Michael Holquist and Caryl Emerson. Austin: University of Texas Press. Becker, Andrew S. 1995. The Shield of Achilles and the Poetics of Ekphrasis. London: Rowman and Littlefield. Beissinger, M., J. Tylus, and S. Wofford. 1999. Epic Traditions in the Contemporary World. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Bhabha, Homi K. 1989. “The Commitment to Theory.” In Questions of Third Cinema, edited by Jim Pines and Paul Willemen. London: British Film Institute Publishing, pp. 111–132. Fontein, J. ed. 1990. The Sculpture of Indonesia. Washington and New York: National Gallery of Art/Harry N. Abrams. Geertz, Clifford. 1973. “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture.” In Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books. Gross, Kenneth. 1989. “Moving Statues, Talking Statues.” Raritan, 9.2: 1–25. Heffernan, James A. W. 1993. Museum of Words: The Poetics of Ekphrasis from Homer to Ashbery. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Hicks, David. 1976. Tetum Ghosts and Kin. Palo Alto: Mayfield. Holt, Claire. 1967. Art in Indonesia: Continuities and Change. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Hoskins, Janet. 1998. Biographical Objects: How Things Tell the Stories of People’s Lives. New York: Routledge. Kopytoff, Igor. 1986. “The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process.” In The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, edited by Arjun Appadurai. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 64–91. Mannikka, Eleanor. 1994. “The Battle of Lanka at Angkor Wat: A Visual Metaphor.” In The Legend of Rama: Artistic Visions, edited by Vidya Dehejia. Bombay: Marg Publications, p. 135. Maspero, Georges. 1928. Le royaume de Champa. Paris: G. van Oest. McGowan, Kaja M. 1995. “Balancing on Bamboo: Women in Balinese Art.” Asian Art and Culture 8. 1: 75–95. Ramseyer, Urs. 1977. The Art and Culture of Bali. New York: Oxford University Press. Robson, O. 1980. “The Ra¯ma¯ynfi a in Early Java.” Southeast Asian Review 5.2:5–17. Sapiro, V. 1993. “Engendering Cultural Differences.” In the Rising Tide of Cultural Pluralism, edited by C. Young. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. Scott, Grant F. 1994. The Sculpted Word: Keats, Ekphrasis, and the Visual Arts. Hanover, N. H.: University Press of New England. Taylor, John G. 1991. Indonesia’s Forgotten War: The Hidden History of East Timor. London: Pluto Press. Thomas, N. 1991. Entangled Objects: Exchange, Material Culture, and Colonialism in the Pacific. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Traube, Elizabeth. 1986. Cosmology and Social Life: Ritual Exchange among the Mambai of East Timor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Walter, E. V. 1988. Placeways: A Theory of the Human Environment. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Waterson, Roxana. [1990] 1997. The Living House: An Anthropology of Architecture in Southeast Asia. Singapore and New York: Oxford University Press. Welty, Eudora. 1957. Place in Fiction. New York: House of Books.

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Wheatley, Paul. 1959. “Geographical Notes on Some Commodities Involved in Sung Maritime Trade.” Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 32. Wijaya, Putu. 1988. “If He Could Choose Again.” In Bomb: Indonesian Short Stories by Putu Wijaya, edited by Ellen Rafferty and Laurie J. Sears. Madison: University of Wisconsin Center for Southeast Asian Studies, pp. 32–43. Winichakul, Thongchai. 1997. “Viewpoints.” AAS Newsletter (Summer). Wolters, O. W. 1967. Early Indonesian Commerce. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. ———. [1982] 1999. History, Culture, and Region in Southeast Asian Prespectives. Ithaca: Cornell Southeast Asia Program Publications.

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13 The Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in the Arts of Thailand and Cambodia Julie B. Mehta

When traders from India began to bring their goods to Southeast Asia in the early sixth century c.e., the article of the most enduring value they brought was the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. The ancient Champa, located in what is now southern Vietnam, had a temple dedicated to the sage Va¯lmı¯ki, composer of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, with an inscription that mentions both the epic and the avatars or incarnations of Visfi nfi u, of which Ra¯ma was the seventh. Evidently, Khmer sculptors knew the epic as far back as the Sambor Prei Kuk period during the eighth century. Through a millennium and a half, the epic has come to be woven into the very fabric of life in the varied though related cultures of the region, despite political turmoil and wide-ranging social change. Especially in Thailand and Cambodia, countries that share both a history of serious dispute and a rich cultural heritage, the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a has provided much of the energy of artistic production, particularly in the visual and performing arts. As recently as 1998, the story was commemorated in a set of postage stamps depicting large Nang Yai figures.1 Performances of the Ra¯ma¯kien in Thailand and Reamker in Cambodia continue to precede religious practices conducted by resident brahman priests in Thailand and Cambodia. Episodes are also performed at ceremonies at the royal court and royal chapel. The high points of Thai and Cambodian history show the Ra¯ma theme running as a common thread. For example, the first Thai ruler to consolidate an absolute monarchy was the legendary Ra¯ma¯thibodhi I, the founder of Ayutthya (1351–1369), who set himself up in the style of the Khmer god-kings or devara¯jas. Not only did his name align him with Ra¯ma, he deliberately sought to validate his rule by calling his capital city after Ra¯ma’s own capital. That this as-


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sociation was a successful political move is evident in that his reign is referred to as Ra¯ma ra¯jya, and that this mode of validation is still considered necessary is attested by the continued assumption of the name Ra¯ma by modern Thai kings. The links especially between Thai rulers and the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a are many. The scholarly interest that the Thai royal family has taken in the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a is one of the principal reasons why it has remained so much at the center of Thai public life. In the late 1700s the great King Ra¯ma I (1782–1809) composed the Ra¯ma¯kien as the quintessential Thai epic romance familiar to us. His descendants in the royal line, notably Prince Damrong Rajanubhav, Prince Kittiyakara Krommaphra Chandavurinarunath, and Prince Bidyalongkorn, carried on the patronage of Ra¯ma¯yanfi a scholarship. Thai royalty, culture, and society have always revered the great king Ra¯ma as an integral part of their heritage. The legendary kings of the Chakri Dynasty were named after the epic hero, believed to be the seventh incarnation of Phra Narai or Phitsanu (Lord Visfi nfi u). King Ra¯ma I created the first local version of the Ra¯ma¯kien with a distinctly Thai twist in 1807. At Wat Phra Keo, in Bangkok, scenes consisting of a complete series of illustrations from the Thai Ra¯ma¯kien inspired by the text of King Ra¯ma I, line the walls of the temple cloisters, with some of the first paintings dating back to the reign of King Ra¯ma III (1824–1851). In modern times, King Ra¯ma VI (1910–1925) traced the sources of the Ra¯ma¯kien to the Visfinfi u Pura¯nfi a, the Hanuma¯n Na¯fitaka, and a number of other ancient Sanskrit texts, some of them obscure. The tradition continues to this day. It was only a few years ago that Her Royal Highness, Princess Maha Chakri Sirinidhorn, brought out a translation and scholarly study of the lengthy Sanskrit inscription at Prasat Phanom Rung. In Thailand, the legend of Ra¯ma is so much a part of life that one encounters it on a daily basis. One may detect its presence even at unexpected places and on unexpected occasions, if one is aware of the deep-rooted presence of the Lord Phra Ra¯m (Ra¯ma) in the richly wrought tapestry of Thai life. In my first week in Bangkok I was pleasantly surprised to find certain food items named after the leading characters of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Phra ram long srong is a curry concocted out of the leafy morning glory with a sprinkling of meat on top. Another dish is called sida lue fai, also known as pak boong fai deng, made with morning glory and other vegetables tossed into smoking hot oil, which causes a flare that is supposed to resemble the fire ordeal of Sı¯ta¯. The pervasiveness of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in Thailand and Cambodia is particularly interesting because it demonstrates the union of diversities on many levels, including the religious and political. The long history of conflict between the two peoples is also a history of social and cultural development, which can be traced back to the common Hindu heritage of ancient times. It is marked by the similarity of art forms, such as Thai classical dance and shadow theater, and the classical khon performance of Cambodia. Again, although both are Theravada Buddhist nations, they have a deep-rooted affinity for the Hindu pantheon, as we see in the simultaneous veneration of the Buddha side by side with Brahma¯, Visfi nfi u, S´iva, and Indra. The Hindu Buddhist syncretism presents

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an exceedingly complex, multitextured phenomenon that continues to be nurtured and passed on from generation to next generation of teacher and pupil. This culture of guru-s´isfiya param ˙ para¯ relates not only to religious life but also to cultural practice, as I have discovered in course of numerous visits to the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh and to Siem Reap. It has also been essential to the conservation and development of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a tradition in the arts of these cultures. Although the survival of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a tradition has depended largely upon the ancient practice of oral transmission, the vigor of performance modes is not to be underestimated. The master musicians, choreographers, and dance teachers who survived the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia continue to teach Reamker performances to small but dedicated bands of students, making Cambodia a particularly fruitful field for the study of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in its performance modes. More than any other parts of the transplanted Hindu culture, the story of Ra¯ma seems to have captured the Thai and Khmer imagination. In Thailand and Cambodia, the performing and visual arts are often exclusively woven around the Ra¯ma¯kien and Reamker. Performances range from the esoteric and highly complex khon mask-dance dramas and Khmer royal classical ballet in Cambodia to the widely attended and dexterous shadow puppetry of Nang Yai and Nang Talung throughout Thailand. In terms of visual representation, the finest example in Thailand is the set of murals on the cloister walls of Wat Phra Keo, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The paintings were originally done in the reign of King Ra¯ma III, but because of climatic conditions they have to be redone periodically. They present the key scenes of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a in a linear fashion, and in their selectivity and organization we may see a directing principle in common with the Ra¯ma¯kien as a dance narrative. A different kind of visual aesthetic exists in both Thailand and Cambodia in the form of fabric and furniture design drawn from the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. Scenes from the epic are vividly portrayed on wood panels in gilton-lacquer work in emulation of models from the Rattanakosin or Bangkok period in Thailand, while less complicated but equally brilliant images are woven into the brocade for the sarong-like garments known as pha sins and sampots worn by Ra¯ma¯kien and Reamker performers. In sculpture, we find the delicately wrought lintels of the Banteay Seri S´aivaite shrine, with their dramatic depiction of Ra¯vanfi a shaking Mount Kailasa. Cambodia boasts the vast temple complex at Angkor Vat, built by Suryavarman II, where the stone galleries and bas-reliefs show not only divinities in stylized postures but also battle scenes of monkey and demon armies carved in all their dramatic intensity of arrested motion. Notwithstanding the construction of the Ra¯ma¯kien and Reamker on the foundation of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a narrative, it is necessary to note that these performance forms are expressions of their distinctive national origins. Historically, the Ra¯ma¯kien and Reamker have evolved through so dynamic an exchange between imitation and invention that in order to understand these forms, their similarity with and departure from the Indian originals, must be noted.2 Two major points of deviation from the original Ra¯ma¯yanfi a plot draw our


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figure 13.1. Hanuma¯n capturing Tosakanth’s heart. Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Bangkok. Photo by Julie Mehta.

immediate attention. Although both Thai and Cambodian adaptations follow the broad outline of the narrative derived from India, they often deviate dramatically from it to produce considerable differences in detail that arise out of their particular worldviews. Not only are the names of the characters modified but also the dress, customs, way of life, and even the flora are given local flavors. At the same time, both Thai and Cambodian versions follow the general plot line centering on the descent of the Hindu preserver god of the universe, Lord Visfi nfi u, to the human realm at a critical time in the history of the world, incarnate as Lord Ra¯ma. His purpose is to rid the world of evil as symbolized by the arrogance and lust of the demon King Ra¯vanfi a, who forcefully abducts Ra¯ma’s wife Sı¯ta¯. Ra¯vanfi a pays an enormous price for it, first with his kingdom, then with the death of his family and, finally, with his life. To this point the Thai versions follow the Indian. It is in the sufferings of Sı¯ta¯ that the Ra¯ma¯kien and the Reamker differ vastly from the Indian Ra¯ma¯yanfi as. The first major difference is seen in the order of Sı¯ta¯’s “murder” by Ra¯ma, which calls for at least a quick look. The very idea that Ra¯ma ordered Laksfi manfi a to arrange the killing of his sahadharminı¯ (partner sharing one’s dharma equally) seems hardly credible in any version of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a from India. The Ra¯ma of India is not only unquestionably an avatar of Lord Visnfi u, the preserver god, whose nature cannot tolerate the murder of an innocent person. Perhaps more important from a secular point of view, the Indian Ra¯ma is known for his love for his wife. However, in the Thai and Khmer psyche, the image of Ra¯ma appears to be somewhat different. Phra (Lord) Ra¯ma is not quite the Lord as worshiped by Indians. No doubt he is revered and offered oblations

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figure 13.2. Ra¯ma riding into battle on Hanuma¯n’s back holding his mighty bow. Angkor Vat. Photo by Julie Mehta.

and prayers, and occasionally commands his own shrine, but in a somewhat muted manner. The Ra¯ma¯kien and Reamker are more about human desires, daily conflicts, jealousy, and marital tension, that is to say, the causes of human actions that make the hero of both the Ra¯ma¯kien and the Reamker go to war, which is not understood as a divine mission. This difference is clearly reflected in the titles that the story has in its Thai and Khmer forms: Ra¯ma¯kien means the memorable deeds of Ra¯ma, and Reamker the glory of Ra¯ma, the emphasis being on the human acts rather than the divine personhood of Ra¯ma. True, like the Indian Ra¯ma, Phra Ra¯m represents all the kingly virtues imaginable; he is a courageous warrior, righteous prince, and faithful husband. Again, as in the Indian tradition, Phra Ra¯m’s brother Phra Lak acts as his shadow. But this does not stop them from acting quite differently at times. Exchanges between Ra¯ma and Sı¯ta¯ are often distinctly rancorous, and Lord S´iva intervenes to admonish Ra¯ma for his unjust treatment of his consort. Apart from being


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refreshing departures, such inventions considerably change the denouement and add a new spin to an old tale. The second point of difference is the influence of the s´akti cult or the veneration of Maha¯devı¯, the great Goddess, and the Das´amaha¯vidya¯s, who are aspects of the Goddess. These conceptions are essential to the Indian pantheon and are specially powerful presences in the eastern Ra¯ma¯yanfi as. The idea of s´akti seemed not to have been understood or adapted in either the Thai or Khmer milieu. Images of Mahisfi a¯suramardinı¯ do surface, as at Banteay Seri, but are very rare. Because of the absence of the s´akti cult, Sı¯ta¯ is perceived more as an ideal wife with the necessary virtue of faithfulness and patience and complete obedience to her husband than as a powerful goddess who is a manifestation of Maha¯devı¯ and hence cannot be annihilated. Perhaps less profound but certainly not less striking a departure from Sanskrit and other Indian Ra¯ma¯yanfi as is the portrayal of Hanuma¯n, the monkey warrior who is revered in India, particularly in north India, as a god. His reputation there is as a fearsome warrior whose prowess is closely associated with his celibacy. But to Thai and Cambodian audiences he appears quite different. At the touch of the Thai scribe’s brush he becomes a Casanova of the east, seducing women every minute. In the Khmer version, he is portrayed as a monkey, literally, with an embarrassing itch that might amaze an Indian audience that sees Hanuma¯n as nothing less than a god, as San˙katfiamocan, the remover of obstacle and danger. In both Thai and Cambodian versions he acts as a foil to the high-mindedness of Ra¯ma while retaining his chief distinction as Ra¯ma’s devoted servant. He is loyal and brave and always full of good ideas about solving problems. But he is also associated with magic and has much of it at his command. He also lightens the story’s mood. Even when he is engaged in battles and business on Phra Ra¯m’s behalf, his playful monkey nature shows through, and he is always ready to woo a beautiful lady of almost any ancestry, and he rarely fails. Even after singeing Benjakai, his advances are not spurned, and the fishy Princess Suppanamacha, despite being thwarted when Hanuma¯n stops her bridge-destruction efforts, succumbs to his charms. The Thai or Cambodian Hanuma¯n is certainly not the chaste and proper monkey that one meets in India or Indonesia. Despite these differences, the two major elements of the original narrative, the heroic resolve of Ra¯ma and the sufferings of Sı¯ta¯, continue to capture the mind of the people. Ra¯ma’s greatness—physical, moral, and spiritual—makes him the ideal man and the model ruler. Dynasties have been named after him, shrines have been built for him, roads have been inaugurated in his honor, and battles have been waged in his name all through the region. In fact the very idea of kingship in Thailand was founded on the idealized Ra¯ma. Though primarily Buddhist, countries like Thailand and Cambodia have been led by individuals who have worn the mantle of Ra¯ma with pride, weaving the godking’s legend smoothly into their cultural fabric. These countries were already familiar with the worship of the Hindu gods S´iva or Visfi nfi u as devara¯ja (king of gods) as far back as the early year of Angkorean splendor during the reign

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of Khmer king Jayavarman II. This familiarity is sometimes expressed in unexpected intersections of Hindu and Buddhist practices. A striking example occurs in the Silver Pagoda in the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. At the foot of the altar stands a gold statue of Buddha, studded with diamonds. To the unknowing visitor, it looks like any of the many statues of the Buddha, though perhaps costlier. But its history lends it a distinct ambivalence. It was made from the melted jewelry of King Norodom, and its measurements are exactly the same as that of the deceased ruler; this relates it to the statues of Visfi nfi u (or Ra¯ma) or S´ivalin˙gas in the ancient temples of Angkor. Here, then, we have an icon that is Buddhist in form but resonant with Hindu associations. Similarly, in the currency of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a we see the meeting of traditions—religious, social, and literary. Whether in the visual or the performing arts, the story is rendered in typical Thai style, using established conventions of colors and attributes that denote specific characters. Thus, the Ra¯ma¯kien is presented through an artistic code that the audience readily recognizes. The Cambodian Reamker similarly follows a recognizable code. Hanuma¯n is always the white monkey, Sugrı¯va red, Laksm fi anfi a golden white, and Sı¯ta¯ white. Ra¯ma appears in green, mostly in a special mask and with his bow, while Ra¯vanfi a always appears in black. In the performing arts arena, the Nang shadow play with Ra¯ma¯kien characters as cutout buffalo-hide figures held high on two sticks and held against a lighted screen as a silhouette originated in India and found its way through Java to Thailand. The first recorded mention of this Nang style appears in the Palatine Law by King Borom Trailokanath of Ayutthaya in 1458. Samples of the Nang Yai figures can still be seen at the National Museum of Bangkok dating from the era of King Ra¯ma II (1809–1824). Like shadow theater, khon consists of episodes from the Ra¯ma¯kien, and all the characters of the khon dances don opulent costumes glittering with gold braid and sequins and jewels (Fig. 13.3 & Fig. 13.4). Glitter likewise characterizes the papier mache´ masks that denote particular characters by brilliantly painted expressions. Phra Ra¯m in the Thai version of the Ra¯ma¯kien is colored green, and this is because he is a reincarnation of the god Phra Narai. His brother Laksfi manfi a is indicated by the color gold, and their monkey companion Hanuma¯n is always in white, so the association between character and appearance is firmly entrenched in the mind of the average Thai spectator at a Ra¯ma¯kien performance. In Cambodia we find a similar pervasiveness of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, known in Khmer as Reamker, that is, the Glory of Ra¯ma. Like the Thai Ra¯ma¯kien, the Reamker differs both in narrative detail and in conceptual orientation from the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, but remains true to its essential plot line. The Reamker is composed of three parts and an epilogue, as compared to the seven books of the Indian original, and instead of emphasizing the hero’s divine mission, it plays upon the ker or glory of Ra¯ma, or Preah Ream, as the Khmers know him. His wife is Neang Seta (Sı¯ta¯) and his brother is Preah Lak (Laksm fi anfi a). They fight the demon Rab (Ra¯vanfi a) with the help of the monkey Hanuma¯n and win back Neang Seta. They are substantially more humanized than their Indian coun-


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figure 13.3. Sı¯ta¯ and Hanuma¯n in a khon mask performance. Photo by Julie Mehta.

terparts, and their stories illustrate human problems and desires, especially the personal relationship between Preah Ram and Neang Seta, rather than some divine plan for saving the world. Of the many arts of Cambodia that have flourished around this saga, dance and dance drama have perhaps the most enduring presence. The roots of Cambodian dance are believed to lie in ancient indigenous ritual, such as funerary ceremonies or rites connected with ancestor worship within the framework of an animistic religion. Cambodian scholar and former minister of culture Nouth Narang says, “the Cambodian version of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a dance drama and all other Khmer dances are based on the movement of the na¯ga, the snake, because we believe that our grandparents are the na¯ga king’s stock. So our dance follows the movements of the na¯ga or snake, which are graceful loops or spirals. It is very important to remember this because whether it is the Apsara¯ dance, the dance by the heavenly court dancers, or the dances depicting scenes from the Indian epic, the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, the movements are basically of the loops and spirals that embody the movement of the snake.”3 Cambodian scholars trace the snake king legend to Kambu, a legendary ancestor of the ¯ ryades´a in ancient India. In this legend, Kambu Cambodian people from A ¯ ryades´a, on his wanderings found himself in a Svayambhuva, a king from A grotto in the arid Cambodian wilderness, where he met a na¯ga or snake king. The na¯ga king invited him to stay in the land and offered his daughter’s hand in marriage. Kambu accepted, and the na¯ga king used his magic powers to turn the desert land into a lush and fertile paradise. Kambu ruled over the kingdom, which came to be called Kambuja or modern-day Cambodia.

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figure 13.4. A masked khon performance of the four-hour-long Thai Ra¯ma¯kien. Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Bangkok. Photo by Julie Mehta. The animistic belief system and its artistic forms predate the emergence of Funan (100–500 c.e.), the first Indianized kingdom in the present area of Cambodia, which signals a decisive turn toward the Indian material that began to appear. Early documentary sources clearly indicate strong Indian influences. One such source is a sixth-century inscription describing arrangements for the daily recitation of holy texts of Indian origin, such as the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a, the Maha¯bha¯rata, and the Pura¯nfi as. They were adopted from India along with the Sanskrit language and brahmanical Hinduism in its S´aivaite form, with Lord S´iva as its central deity. Later, the Hindu god Visfi nfi u took precedence, as Angkor Vat shows. But although the dance was introduced by Indian traders, it flowered as a courtly art only after the Khmer god-kings retained temple dancers as a part of royal ritual. Numerous records from the sixth century onward mention dances performed within temple precincts as offerings by female dancers, who were donated or belonged to the temple as “slaves of the gods.”


julie b. mehta

There is an obvious similarity here with the Indian custom of devada¯sı¯s that began in the early medieval period and continued until the twentieth century, which again suggests the influence of India.4 In the days of the Angkor empire, dance was a holy offering made to the Hindu deities each night, especially during the full moon. Inscriptions from the tenth-century temple of Banteay Seri, the citadel of women, mention rituals that included offerings by temple dancers to the gods. Royal patronage was crucial in creating these conditions. When Jayavarman II acceded to the throne, he made Khmer dance an integral part of the royal Cambodian milieu. Later, with the fall of Angkor to the Thai army in 1431, Thai artistic practice began to shape Khmer art form. Legend has it that when the traditional Khmer dance was first performed at the Thai court by captive, bare-breasted Khmer dancers, the Thais were horrified and gave strict orders to “clothe” the innocent Khmers. Khmer dance reached its peak during the “golden age of Cambodian history” from the ninth to the fourteenth centuries, and played a prominent role in Khmer society. The dance tradition developed around the Reamker, which was linked to the royal court where the king dwelt, surrounded by female dancers, and also to the temples where large female corps de ballet were responsible for ceremonial dance offerings. For instance, over three thousand dancers are known to have been installed in the main state temples in the reign of Jayavarman VII who, though himself a Buddhist, allowed the Reamker to be performed at his court. The court dance, supported by an elaborate pinpeat, or orchestra, incorporated tales from the Reamker, which the common folk used to come to watch on special festive occasions. Thereby the Reamker gained a permanent place in Khmer culture, both aristocratic and popular, in much the same way that the Ra¯ma¯kien did in Thailand. The Reamker dance tradition is a vastly complex social undertaking, each of its constituent practices having developed as an art in itself. Costumes, for example, are of immense importance, and the dancer waits patiently for up to two hours while her costume is literally “stitched on” to her body by a couturier. A variety of belts and motifs are manufactured by silversmiths, as are the rich sampots or skirts woven out of gold and silver thread. Reamker characters often wear elaborately ornamented headdresses, whose motifs are reminiscent of the patterns of architecture decoration, as we may see in the threefold arrangement of the ornaments and the pyramidlike forms on the crown. The Cambodian dance tradition gained such vigor that it survived through centuries of struggle for national survival, and that vigor may be attributed to the appeal of its narrative base, the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a. The Royal Cambodian Ballet, known as Lakhon Lueng, or the King’s Dancers, were supported by the royal household till 1970 and staged spectacular shows of the Reamker (Fig. 13.5). The gravest threat to the Reamker performance occurred in modern times, during the Pol Pot regime in the 1970s. Along with the monarchy, the Royal Ballet dance was abolished. The dancers were lured or forced into private troupes and other professions. Most ancient costumes and jewelry housed in the royal palace were destroyed. In recent years, however, the Royal Khmer Ballet has experienced a spirited revival through the unflagging enthusiasm of

ra¯ ma¯ yanfi a in thailand and cambodia


figure 13.5. Kus´a fights in the Khmer Lakhon Leung court dance. Photo by Julie Mehta.

a handful of committed artists, such as the choreographer Proeung Chheng, the famous teacher Madam Em Theay—now in her seventies—and Princess Buppha Devi. Their goal of opening the classical performance form to mass audiences has led to the creation of hybrid forms by combining the traditional Thai style of movements with poses, costume, and jewelry copied from ancient Khmer bas-reliefs. Revival has been made difficult by the loss of much of the written notations of classical Khmer dance as far back as the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries during Siamese and Vietnamese invasions, and more extensively in the 1970s. That present initiatives are gaining success owes more than a little to the appeal of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a story that has been so intrinsic a part of the Cambodian national psyche. On looking at the arts of Thailand and Cambodia, one is struck by the pervasiveness, durability, and vitality of the Ra¯ma¯yanfi a theme. Introduced into these domains almost two thousand years ago, the story and the character archetypes it has engendered continue to command both scholarly interest and</