The Ramayana, an ancient Indian mythological tale loved and revered by Hindus, is performed all over the country during the festival of Dussehra, culminating in Diwali. The story is simple, about the good king Ram who fights and is victorious over the evil Ravana; it spreads the message of dharma, karma, loyalty, devotion to parents and duty towards citizens.
This epic poem has left its influence not just in India but also on other countries in Southeast Asia.
Originally written in Sanskrit by sage Valmiki, the Ramayana has been interpreted in different ways in these countries. These adaptations take the basic plot of Valmiki’s Ramayana but modify it according to the culture of their own communities. It is then represented in different ways in their literature, dance, theatre and also temple architecture.
With multiple versions in India itself, there are about 300 variants of the Ramayana. Some of the popular ones are to be found in Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia, among other countries.
1. The Buddhist version:
In Dashratha Jataka, the Buddhist version of the Ramayana, Dashratha was the king of Kashi first and then of Ayodhya. But the main point of departure from Valmiki’s version in this Ramayana is that Rama, Sita and Lakshmana were sent to a hermitage in the Himalayas for twelve years by Dashratha in order to protect them from his over ambitious third wife Kalyani, instead of being banished from the kingdom as is popularly believed.
This is one of those rare versions of the tale that has no mention of the abduction of Sita.
2. The Jain version:
In this version, Rama is a follower of non-violence. So, it is Lakshmana who kills Ravana and both of them go to hell. Rama, in the end, renounces his kingdom and becomes a Jain monk and eventually attains moksha. He also predicts that both Lakshmana and Ravana will be re-born as upright persons and attain salvation.
3. The Malay version:
Hikayat Seri Rama, the Malay version of the epic poem, gives Lakshmana a larger role and even increases his importance as compared to Rama in some incidents. Malay writers and storytellers have also glorified Lakshmana’s courage.
4. The Thai version:
One of the most popular works of literature in Thailand, Ramakien is the Thai version of the Ramayana. It is considered to be Thailand’s national epic and has a deep influence on Thai literature, culture and art.
Though most of the stories are the same as those in Valmiki’s version, Ramakien gives more importance to Hanuman.
5. The Burmese version:
The Burmese version of the Ramayana is known as Yama Zatdaw and is the unofficial national epic of Myanmar. The plot, the features and characteristics of the characters remain the same in this version, the only difference being the names, which are Burmese transliterations of the Sanskrit names.