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Ramayana, Footprints in South Asian Culture & Heritage by Anita Bose

Ramayana, Footprints in South Asian Culture & Heritage

Anita Bose

Book Review

During her stay in Thailand Anita Bose was surprised to see that the Indian epic of Ramayana was an integral part of the Thai culture. A country with 95% Buddhist population studying of Ramayana is a compulsory part of school education in Thailand. The Buddhist King of Thailand still takes the title of Rama.

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Book Cover (Source: Bee Books)

During her five years stay in Bangkok, Thailand Anita volunteered as a guide at the National Museum of Bangkok, which housed a Ramayana gallery.

During her stint as a volunteer guide in the museum a month long Ramayana Festival in Bangkok changed Anita’s concept of Ramayana. The international festival had participants from eight countries, including India.

This was an eye opener for Anita and motivated her to travel to several other south Asian countries to retrace the Ramayana legacy.

Her travels and research resulted in the book titled Ramayana, Footprints in South Asian Culture and Heritage. The book covers extensive info on Ramayana practice in south east Asian countries of Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Loas, Cambodia and Myanmar.

In Thailand Ramayana is known as Ramakein and is performed in the form of Khon Dance (Also see: Khon Dance Mask) or shadow puppetry. The inner walls of the Grand Palace in Bangkok depicts the entire Ramayana in 178 panels stretching over a mile. In Indonesia Ramayana is known as Kakawin and is performed by Muslim dancers, on full-moon nights, with the backdrop of the massive Prambanan Temple.

Anita

Anita Bose

Anita narrates the experience of Rabindranath Tagore and linguistic expert Suniti Chatterjee experience of the grand Kakawin dance show in Java dating back to 1927.

In Malaysia it is known as Hikayat Seri Rama. Sadly in 1971 Ramayana, Mahabharata and other non Islamic books were discontinued in public regime.

The once immensely popular  dance forms and puppet shows are on the verge of extinction.

In Philippines it is known as Maharadia Lawana. In spite of Islamic invasion and Spanish colonial rule Ramayana still remains an integral part of the Filipino culture. Over the years it has evolved and resulted into folk tales called Hud Hud, which combines the two Indian epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata.

In Laos Ramayan is known as Phra Lak Phra Lam, where Lak is Lakshman and Lam in Rama. The Ramayana versions of these south east countries differ considerably from the Valmiki version. In Laos Sita is Ravana’s daughter while Rama and Lakshmana have a sister named Chanda, whom Ravana abducts and marries. And Hanuman is Rama’s son, but the basic fabric of the story remains the same.

Asitique 1

A Khon Dance performance of Ramakein in Bangkok, Thailand

In Cambodia Ramayana is known as Reamker and Rama is portrayed as a human being. In the south east asian countries Ramayana is not just a epic but a way of life. In Combodia Ramayana is recited when their is a fear of drought.

Closer home in Myanmar it is known as Thri Rama. Ramayana panels are found on the outer walls of brick temples in Myanmar. In Myanmar Ramayana exist both in prose and poetry form and dance performance are part of the present day Myanmar society.

Although Anita makes several reference of Vietnam in her book but a sadly a entire chapter was very much missed. On the other side the book does have few typos, printing errors and even a few factual errors. Hope this will be rectified in the next edition.

About the author: Anita Bose, an artist herself, presently worked at the National Museum in Bangkok, Thailand as a guide volunteer for 5 years. She holds a diploma in Appreciation of Indian Art and Ramkrishna Vivekananda Movement from Kavi Kulguru Kalidas University, Nagpur. She is presently part of the Global Ramayana Encyclopedia.

Quick facts about the book:

  • Publisher: Bee Books
  • Price: ₹ 400 or $ 12.00

Note: Photographs of Khon Dance is from my personal collection

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