Ramayana Should Be India's Soft Power Tool

Published: 26th September 2015 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 25th September 2015 01:09 AM   |  A+A-

Ramayana.jpgMy earliest introduction to Ramayana was as a young child learning the shloka—‘Ramaya Ramabhadraya Ramachandraya Vedase’—from my mother. As a choreographer, time and again, I returned to the Ramayana—‘Thyagaraja Ramayanam’, ‘Sri Rama Namam Entha Ruchi Ra’. I also questioned ‘Is Ramarajya not for Sita?’ in my dance theatre work What about me?

Performing at Angkor Wat for the 3rd International Ramayana Festival in Cambodia in 1997 was an unforgettable experience. Invited to convene the prestigious Natya Kala Conference in Chennai in 2008, I chose ‘Ramayana in Performing Arts’ that was hailed as a bench mark conference. Rama has drawn me often and he seems to have done it again.

An invitation to the ‘One Asia in Dance Conference’ took me to Korea early this month to speak on the theme ‘Ramayana—A pan-Asian cultural narrative’.

As a story, the Ramayana marks relevance, as the ultimate victory of good over evil. While it is obviously black and white, the shades of grey are too subtle and capture every artist’s imagination and angst.

The essence of the Ramayana is that it is the saga of human heroism and magnanimity, in spite of the accoutrements of human characteristics. Valmiki presents Rama as an apogee of humanity, who becomes divine in the reader’s mind because of his actions. (Says Rama of himself atmanam manusam manye ramam dasarathatmajam). And to me, that essentially is the beauty of the Ramayana.

Very few literary traditions have gripped the imagination and collective conscience of the people of so many countries and cultures, like that of Ramayana, which influenced art and culture of the Indian subcontinent, but also travelled to Thailand, Indonesia, China, Cambodia, Java and Malaysia.

From the early 9th century AD, the Southeast Asian Ramayana versions such as the Khmer Reamker, Thai Ramakien, the Lao Phra Lak Phra Lam, the Malay Hikayat Seri Rama, etc., have flourished as national epics. Enjoying a short holiday in Thailand, where the Ramayana is called Ramakien, I stood mesmerised by the exquisite Ramayana murals on the walls of the Grand Palace in Bangkok. I was told that in the past 200 years, nine kings of Thailand have been named Rama.

In the predominantly Islamic-Indonesian society, Ramayana is owned as a proud cultural tradition, and is a subject in most universities. Many Indonesians are also named Rama. A fact reiterated by a speaker from Indonesia, Dr Nursilah, who smiled from under her head scarf to say: “My son is named Rama”.

And yet, we in India have abdicated this potent soft power of the Ramayana. For the very best of Ramayana festivals, we look to Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand.

Why is it that India, the land of the Ramayana, has no international Ramayana festival or conference that would be a congregation of the best of scholars and artists from across the world? Is it because we have subjugated to indoctrination that the Ramayana means you are not secular?

The Ramayana should be an integral soft power tool for India, with annual festivals of performing and visual arts, research and scholarship, to build upon our shared cultural history with the regions of South and Southeast Asia. India must make a conscious effort to tap into this shared cultural conscious that is a living testimony of my strong belief that ‘religion is personal, but culture is civilisational’.

Ananda Shankar Jayant is a serving bureaucrat and a classical dancer, choreographer and dance scholar. She can be contacted at ananda.jayant@gmail.com


Disclaimer : We respect your thoughts and views! But we need to be judicious while moderating your comments. All the comments will be moderated by the newindianexpress.com editorial. Abstain from posting comments that are obscene, defamatory or inflammatory, and do not indulge in personal attacks. Try to avoid outside hyperlinks inside the comment. Help us delete comments that do not follow these guidelines.

The views expressed in comments published on newindianexpress.com are those of the comment writers alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of newindianexpress.com or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of The New Indian Express Group, or any entity of, or affiliated with, The New Indian Express Group. newindianexpress.com reserves the right to take any or all comments down at any time.

flipboard facebook twitter whatsapp