By Sudha Murty
Diwali 2019 history: Unlike other civilisations, India has not colonised any country. In our country, various versions of the Ramayana exist.
The Jain Ramayana is different from the Hindu one. In the Jain Ramayana, Lakshmana battles against Ravana, kills him and brings Sita back to her husband.
Historically, Indian merchants travelled to various places, particularly South East Asia. Wherever they went, they took our epics with them. The local people were fascinated by our culture and adopted it with their own flavour. They even altered the stories in the Ramayana to adapt them to local tastes and sensibilities. The Valmiki version of the epic somewhat changed during its translation to regional languages, and in most cases, the plots and schematic adaptations have also been altered.
You can easily see the traces of the legends in the Ramayana in Myanmar, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand, Malaysia, Mongolia and Vietnam. In all these countries, stage performances of Ramayana are also quite popular.
In Thailand, the royal families believe that they are the descendants of Rama; the kings of Thailand title their last name as Rama and refer to their capital as Ayutthaya (strongly reminiscent of Ayodhya). Ramakien, an epic of Thailand, means ‘the glory of Rama’, and the country boasts related shadow puppet shows, paintings, dances and dramas.
Rama is depicted with a deep green face in paintings and Lakshmana with a gold face, while Hanuman is showcased as a white monkey. Hanuman there is believed to have many partners, in contrast to the celibate Hanuman we worship here in India.
Further south, in Cambodia, Buddhism influences the depiction of the balance of good and evil in the world, while the text itself is called Yamayana in Myanmar, with some changes to it.
Despite the various versions and depictions, one character remains the same-Rama. He is victorious, goodlooking and has a great personality-the best among men.
(Excerpted with permission from The Upside Down King – Unusual Tales about Rama and Krishna by Sudha Murty, published by Puffin.)