From the Jacket:
These essays, originally presented at an international conference, are in the forefront of the modern response to an ancient work that has gained a new critical and social relevance in contemporary scholarship. Approaching the Ramayana from several angles in an attempt to understand its aesthetic and ideological meaning, they examine the epic through the perspectives of textual criticism, art, architectural and film. Thereby they address critical issues such as the seminal status of Valmiki, the underlying problem of canonicity itself, the importance of other - so-called derivative - Ramayanas, the implications of gender representation, and the cultural manipulation of social ideals relating to the position of women and the idealisation of love that achieves its highest value in marriage.
Using the methods of rigorous textual and historical investigation, each essay seeks not only in uncover the layers of meaning in the complex structure of the epic in its varied forms but also to situate it critically in the cultures of South and Southeast Asia.
About the Author:
Dr. Mandakranta Bose, who has specialised in the Sanskrit tradition of dramaturgy and dance, teaches Religious Studies and Women's Studies at the University of British Columbia, Canada where she is Director of the Centre for India and South Asia Research. She is a fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society, London. Some of her recent works include Speaking of the Dance: The Indian Critique; Faces of the Feminine in Ancient, Medieval and Modern Indian: The Dance Vocabulary of Classical India; and movement and Mimesis: The Idea Dance in the Sanskritic Tradition.
THE articles that comprise this volume originated in a two- day conference entitled, 'The Ramayana Culture: Text, Performance, Iconography and Gender', at the Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia, on 19 and 20 February 1999. This gathering of Ramayana scholars from Canada, USA, England and the University of British Columbia was organised by the Programme in Intercultural Studies in Asia at the Institute of Asian Research, with support from the Centre for India and South Asia Research of the Institute. The conference was planned as the first step towards launching an ambitious and long-term project on the enduring presence of the Ramaya1fa in the varied political and cultural domains of South and South-East Asia. Over almost two millennia the mythic world of Rama, Sita, Laksmana and Hanuman has proved to be an ethical, political and cultural imaginary from which present-day public life continues to draw artistic as well as pragmatic paradigms. Not confined within the often uncritical prestige enjoyed by a 'classic' literary work, the Ramayana has been the subject of lively debate, including sharply partisan critiques, especially in recent years. The object of this modest volume is to participate in that debate and perhaps to make some contribution to it.
While the contributors look at the Ramayana from distinctly different angles, they converge to a central aspiration of current scholarship, namely, understanding the way in which the epic constructs aesthetic and ideological meaning for the modern consciousness. The five essays in the present volume and the introduction span several critical areas. The first essay examines what might be termed the contentious issue of Valmiki's seminal status and the underlying debate on canonicity itself in present-day Ramayana scholarship. This is followed by a study of the iconography of the Ramayana derived from an alternate tradition located in Indonesia. The remaining essays raise and analyse some of the gender issues implicit in the epic, taking into their purview not only what has been commonly taken as the 'central' text but 'peripheral' ones as well. In doing so, these studies venture even beyond the textual level to other forms of cultural representation.
This volume makes no claim of establishing a bridgehead; there has never been a lack of scholarly interest in the Ramayana. Much has been written and many conferences held in India, in other South and South-East Asian countries and in the West. Modern editions have appeared based on imaginative and sophisticated textual research, the work on the Valmiki Ramayana by Robert Goldman and Sally Sutherland Goldman being a major exemplar. John Brockington's studies in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata have contributed much to our knowledge. A specially exciting field has opened up with the study of regional versions of the Ramayana popular in different parts of India, and this trend of admitting popular traditions into the research domain of the 'classics' has led to the recognition of such alternate renderings of the epic as those by women. Studies abound both in popular as well as in Sanskrit Ramayanas. In view of the new light thrown on the epic by a host of scholars - Paula Richman, Philip Lutgendorf, Sally Sutherland-Goldman, Robert Goldman, Monika Boehm- Tettelbach (a.k.a. Thiel-Horstmann), William Smith, Narayan Rao, to name only a few - one may well wonder what need there might be for yet another book such as this. But as noted above, we have indeed entered a particularly fruitful era of enquiry in which many of the donnee of a canonical critique have come under informed interrogation. It is hoped that the present volume will justify itself by demonstrating the vigour of that interrogation.
The book falls into a two-part structure, the first comprising two essays, by Robert Goldman and Alessandra Lopez y Royo, which might be thought of as a debate on 'classicness' or, to use different terms, centre and periphery. Robert Goldman's essay situates this volume in a much larger discussion, namely, the effort in recent scholarship about India on making subaltern, neglected, and marginal voices central. Reviewing recent the trend in Ramayana scholarship to resist the privileging of Valmiki as the pointman of patriarchy, Goldman makes a spirited textual case for recognising him as the adikavi, the First Poet, whose text has resonated with the changing ethical, aesthetic and political sensibilities of succeeding ages, encompassing and empowering multiple subject positions. As he makes plain, this is also a discussion that has a specific profile in recent studies and discussions concerning the Ramayana itself.
WHY has the Ramayana been so popular for so long a time in India and in many parts of South and South-East Asia? What does it offer to the millions who have been enthralled through the centuries by the stories of its heroes, demons, magical beasts and birds, the moral questions they raise to highlight as many dilemmas as prescriptions? Is it the primal appeal of the victory of good over evil? Is it the didactic projection of Rama and Sita as role models for common mortals, both male and female, Rama being the ideal son, husband, brother, the perfect king, dutiful and selfless, and Sita, the ideal of wifely devotion? Or, is it the allegory of devotion and total surrender, bhakti and prapatti, one sees in the story of Rama, the Godhead whose grace brings order into chaos and lays an inalienable claim upon the human soul as represented by Sita? For many people, of course, the Ramayana is mainly entertainment. The arts traditions of India, Thailand, Kampuchea and Indonesia, including literature, painting, sculpture and the performing arts, have drawn upon the Ramayana widely and creatively. Its public profile in India was enhanced dramatically in the 1980s with its serialisation in a television version of such popularity that during its weekly screenings business came to a virtual halt all over India and acquired an enthusiastic following among people of South and South-East Asian origin living abroad. In recent times, the epic has entered the political arena as well. Beginning with Gandhi's vision of Ramrajya in the twentieth century and influencing the current Ram- Janambhumi debate in India, the ideals of the Ramayana have continued to claim public attention if not invariable allegiance.
Clearly, the Ramayana means many things to many people. From this one may infer that even though there is one dominant text of the epic, there are in fact many Ramayanas, to use Paula Richman's phrase.' which must be studied and perhaps simultaneously deconstructed and remembered in order to understand what the epic means and how. But although scholarship has never neglected the Ramayana, it was only in the later half of the twentieth century that scholarship began to take this varied approach, as noted in the Preface. Few things better attest to the disciplined reconsideration of India in all of the signification that one may attach to the term 'India', than the questioning to which scholarship is now subjecting the Ramayana, a commanding icon of Indianness if ever there was one.
Recent research initiatives span a wide terrain. In textual studies we are beginning to enjoy the products of editorial efforts grounded in scientific studies in textual variants and transmission.' as well as of literary analyses that apply formalist, semantic and deconstructionist methods. Not only in methodology but in coverage of new ground one finds sustained expansion, as for instance, the sociology and politics of the epic and the performance arts nurtured by it. Particular vigour has been gained in all of these fields through subaltern and feminist analyses.
Yet, far from exhausting research possibilities in the Ramayana, scholarship has left many areas still unexplored, especially in regional traditions of both text and performance. Cross-disciplinary or cross-genre critiques are few and brief, and even though most areas of information were mapped by the beginning of the twentieth century, sustained treatments of particular aspects of the epic are often lacking. To take only one of many examples, I may cite the meagre attention paid to one of the most influential of regional Ramayanas, the version by Krttibasa, a fourteenth-century Bengali poet. Admittedly, histories of Bengali literature, notably that by Dinesh Chandra Sen, and the meticulous study of eastern traditions of the Ramayana by William Smith, the latter in particular, provide vital information about the author and set his work in the larger framework of the social history and poetic practices of eastern India.' But Krttibasa's original rendition of Valmiki's poem has been overlaid by so many interpolations through the six centuries after him that what passes now as his Ramayana is not so much his work - and even less of Valmiki's - as a tapestry of the collective consciousness of the Bengali speaking peoples of eastern India that records their changing beliefs and practices.
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