Program for Inter-Cultural Studies in Asia


Mediating Cultures:
The Foundational Role of the Ramayana in
South & Southeast Asian Societies


19-24 June 2000 | Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies
University of British Columbia




Here is the workshop format we have arrived at, with a brief note on what we expect to gain from the workshop. We are obviously interested in more than one area of scholarship, and if it seems that our plan has a large spread it is because we have every hope of launching an ambitious project.  We hope to apply for a thematic grant at the end of the workshop, around September, 2000. This grant, if received, will help us to carry out our research in all the areas we hope to explore in the workshop.

Briefly, our purpose in bringing Ramayana scholars together is to identify what would be the ways of launching a many-sided study of the Ramayana, which will include the establishment of an archival site at UBC for Ramayana texts, art and performance related artefacts.  What unifies the five following research areas is our need to understand the textual foundation of the Ramayana culture and to map the influence of the epic and its cultural products in every sphere of life in South and Southeast Asia.  After the workshop it is hoped that individual scholars with a team of researchers will focus on one of the following five areas to pursue their area of interest. This will allow the UBC participants to follow up on the workshop by developing their own areas of interest within a larger framework.

Our Goals

  1. Identify the regional and folk traditions of text and performance and collect oral and written texts and make audio and video tapes.
  2. Study performances, in both classical and regional traditions in South and Southeast Asia.
  3. Study the iconography of temple sculptures and gamelan, and of paintings (folk and classical) in SA and SEA.
  4. Investigate gender implications:  the influence of the Ramayana in forming ideology, representation and practice.
  5. Consider the use of the Ramayana as a political and social tool.
Our Guests

The following international scholars will attend:

Robert Goldman, The University of California at Berkeley
Sally Sutherland Goldman, The University of California at Berkeley
Philip Lutgendorf, The University of Iowa
Julie Mehta, Bangkok
Heidi Pauwels, University of Washington - Seattle
Paula Richman, Oberlin College
Laurie Sears, The University of Washington
William Smith, Stockholm University
Kapila Vatsyayan, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts


Beginning on Monday, June 19, the workshop will run for five days, ending on Friday, June 23, 2000.

Ramayana Workshop Schedule

Arrival 18 June, Departure 25 June
18 June Most external participants arrive
19 June Morning: 
6:00 p.m. 
6:45 p.m. 
7:30 p.m. 
Free to rest or sightsee

Plenary Lecture:  Kapila Vatsyayan

20 June 9:30: a.m.-12:00 noon  (10:30: Coffee)
12:00 - 1:30 p.m. 
1:30 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. (2:30: Coffee)
6:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m 
7:30 p.m - 9:00 p.m. 
Workshop (Session 1) 
Workshop (Session 2)
Evening Performances
21 June 9:30: a.m. - 12:00 noon (10:30: Coffee)
12:00 - 1:30 p.m.
1:30 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. (2:30: Coffee)
6:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.
7:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Workshop (Session 3) 
Workshop (Session 4)
Evening Performances
22 June 9:30: a.m. - 12:00 noon (10:30: Coffee)
12:00 - 1:30 p.m.
1:30 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. (2:30: Coffee)
6:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.
7:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Workshop (Session 5) 
Workshop (Session 6)
Evening Performances
23 June 9:30: a.m. - 12:00 noon (10:30: Coffee)
12:00 - 1:30 p.m.
1:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. (2:30: Coffee)
3:30 - 4:30 p.m.
6:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.
Workshop (Session 7) 
Workshop (Session 8)
Roundtable Discussion
24 June Free
25 June Departure

Workshop Sessions
(Note: the list of discussants is yet to be finalized).
Day 1: Monday, 19 June Welcome & Reception.

Plenary Lecture:
   Kapila Vatsyayan. Indira Gandhi National Centre for
   the Arts, New Delhi
   "Ramayana and the Visual Arts of South and Southeast Asia"


Day 2: Tuesday, 20 June Chair: Laurence Preston, University of British Columbia

Session 1: Ideological negotiations
   Robert Goldman, University of California at Berkley
   "Resisting Rama: Ethical and other Debates in Valmiki's
   W.L. Smith, University of Stockholm, Sweden
   Gordan Djurdjevic, University of British Columbia

Session 2: Narrative and cultural shifts
   Philip Lutgendorf, University of Iowa
   "Another Ravana, Another Rama: The Narrative Logic of
   an 'Interpolation'"
   Katherine Hacker, University of British Columbia
   Tanya Boughtflower, University of British Columbia

Day 3: Wednesday, 21 June Chair: Vidyut Aklujkar, University of British Columbia

Session 3: Regional versions
   Paula Richman, Oberlin College
   "Modern retellings of Ramkatha"
   Philip Lutgendorf, University of Iowa
   Heidi Pauwels, University of Washington, Seattle

Session 4: Eastern traditions
   W.L. Smith, University of Stockholm, Sweden
   "Ramayana textual traditions in Eastern India--an overview: Types"
   Sally Goldman, University of California at Berkeley
   Monisha Srinivasan, University of British Columbia

Day 4: Thursday, 22 June Chair: Mandakranta Bose, University of British Columbia

Session 5: Gender and narrative strategies
   Sally J. Goldman, University of California at Berkeley
   "Gendered Narratives: Gender, Space, and Narrative Structures in Valmiki's Ramayana"
   Paula Richman: Oberlin College

Session 6: Tradition in the modern context
   Heidi Pauwels, University of Washington, Seattle
   "'Only you.'  The wedding of Rama and Sita, past and present"
   Vidyut Aklujkar University of British Columbia
   Kathleen Wyma, University of British Columbia

Day 5: Friday, 23 June Chair: Katherine Hacker, University of British Columbia

Session 7: The epic as cultural code
   Laurie Sears, University of Washington, Seattle
   "Why Javanese Puppeteers Don't Like Ramayana Stories"
   Denise Nuttal, University of British Columbia
   Kapila Vatsyayan, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi

Session 8: The arts traditions of Southeast Asia
   Julie Mehta, Journalist and Art Historian, Bangkok
   "Sita's story Retold in the Thai Ramakien and the Khmer Reamker"
   Laurie Sears, University of Washington, Seattle

Roundtable Discussion

Concluding Remarks: Robert Goldman, University of California at Berkley

Evening Banquet: 6:30 p.m.


Kapila Vatsyayan, New Delhi
"Ramayana and the Visual Arts of South and Southeast Asia"

The paper will investigate the dynamic process of the cultural negotiation of both similarities and differences as evidenced in the visual arts of South and Southeast Asia.  The countless versions of the Ramayana, both written and oral, constitute the basis of the visual and kinetic expressions of the theme in different regions of South and Southeast Asia. Through select examples from the sculptural and historical interpretation, the nature of the cultural negotiation will be explored at three levels.

First, the nature of the text and image of different sites of India from the earliest sculptural evidence:  pre-Gupta, Gupta to Ellora and Pattadakal.  What may have been the verbal text for the visual imageas also the criterion of selection of the sub-themes and episodes and the elimination of the others.  What does this selective process indicate? Does it point to only artistic reasons or others al so? Second, the representations in different regions from the earliest to the medieval Vijayanagar provide an interesting insight into the subtle and not so subtle changes of attitude towards the chief protagonists in the Rama story. Third, the visual expressions of the theme in Southeast Asia, particularly in the sites of Prambanan and Panataran in Indonesia and those in Cambodia, Thailand and Burma provide significant insights intothe nature of cultural negotiation through a theme which moves concurrently on the principle of a core invariable and countless variables. Fourth, the pictorial narration of the theme in the murals of Thailand and miniature sets in India is distinct from the sculptural. The question arises whether the medium affects the choice of episodes and treatment or whether the pictorial expression on large surfaces and serialized miniatures is an attempt to contain the perennial myth and contemporary societal and political reality.  A few examples of this from the murals and miniature paintings from Southeast Asia and India will be cited.  Does this also reflect a specific Asian attitude in pictorial space and time? Fifth, the visual expressions of the Ramayana clearly interpenetrate with the inf ormative arts, particularly shadow and mask theatre in different regions of South and Southeast Asia.  What does this tell us of the inter-relationship of the arts in Asia?

The paper will argue that a major thematic construct like the Ramayana is an indicator of cultural negotiation at multiple levels. There is a core theme and message that is necessary to this particular text.  Why and how do the countless versions that are vastly divergent qualify as Ramayana?  What is the core perennial theme?  There is also a pattern of diachronic and synchronic negotiation.  Different historical periods in different regions or South and Southeast Asia emphasize or slur over certain episodes and characters.  Also there is a difference between the early and late depiction's of the theme.  Thus there is both a vertical and horizontal movement of both interaction and distinctiveness in the preoccupation with the theme. Within each region there is a specificity of text, style and technique. This permeates the verbal, visual and kinetic. What is the nature of this regional and local identity? Finally, an indication of what needs to be done in the larger project in respect of the visual material on Ramayana that is spread over many centuries in a vast geographical area.

Robert Goldman, University of California at Berkley
 "Resisting Rama: Ethical and other Debates in Valmiki's Ramayana."
One strand of recent scholarship has focussed on the important and neglected topic of folk and vernacular versions of the Rama story in which the hegemonic discourse of patriarchy and social hierarchy that lies close to the heart of Valmiki's Ramayana is contested by a representatives of a variety of subaltern groups. The present paper will, however, examine some episodes in Valmiki's poem itself in which characters representing varying degrees of "subalternity" question or contest the dominant ideology of the poet and his central hero. This examination will, it is hoped, serve to shed some additional light on the ideological underpinnings of the great epic and its role in the formation of the culture and society of South Asia.
Philip Lutgendorf, University of Iowa
Another Rava:a, Another Rama: The Narrative Logic of an "Interpolation"
Although absent from all major recensions of the Valmiki Ramayana as well as from such influential later retellings as the Adhyatma Ramayana, the Kamban Iramavataram, and the Tulsidas Ramcaritmanas, the story of Ahiravana (a.k.a. Mahiravana, Mayiliravana) constitutes one of the most widely-documented and popular elaborations on the central epic narrative. In this cycle of tales, a chthonic double of the main villain, variously known as "earth Ravana," "serpent Ravana," or (in Tamil versions) "peacock Ravana," abducts not Sita but Rama and Laksmana and transports them to the netherworld for sacrifice to a bloodthirsty local goddess.  The heroic brothers are unaccountably helpless in his clutches and the role of heroic rescuer must be assumed by the monkey Hanuman, himself a more elemental and ambivalent "double" of Rama.  Analysis of the details of this story, as well as of its persistent presence (and periodic absence) in various literary and visual representations of the Rama saga can shed light on a number of themes relevant to the reception and cultural role of the epic: the interplay of Vaisnava and Saiva/Sakta elements in the story and its interpretation; the shifting religious roles of Rama and Hanuman; as well as the broader problem of the (permeable?) boundaries of the narrative-what makes an "interpolation" acceptable to Ramayana audiences?
Paula Richman, Oberlin College
Modern  retellings of Rmkath
Modern retellings of Ramkatha in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada have focused upon particular themes, incidents, and characters in distinctive ways.  The presentation will present an overview of some of these shared regional characteristics.  My talk will include examples from Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam plays, as well as Tamil, Kannada, and Telugu women's tellings.  I will also consider legends about the circumstances and authors of South India Ramaya:n tellings.   Some shared themes in these South Indian tellings include reinterpretations of the stories of Sambuka, Surpanakha, Ravana, and Sita.
W.L. Smith, University of Stockholm, Sweden
Ramayana textual traditions in Eastern India: an Overview of Types
Many versions of the Ramayana appear in the medieval literatures of eastern India, such as Assamese, Bengali and Oriya.  The various renderings of the epic, whet her in its full narrative and thematic range or as selected episodes, by such poe ts as Madhav Kandali (14th c.) and Sankaradeva (16th c.) of Assam, Krttibasa (16t h c.) of Bengal, and Balarama Dasa (16th c.) of Orissa, made the Ramayana a widel y accessible repository of religious and social ideas for mass audiences.  Although the majority of these versions is in rhyming couplets, there are dramatic versions as well, such as the ankiya nata plays of Assam and the musical dramas of Orissa.  Even the poetic versions may be viewed as performance scripts, recited as they were--and still are--to audiences.

While the common source for most of the eastern Ramayanas is Valmiki's Ramayana in its Gaudian recension, the later versions borrowed frequently from apocryphal legends and oral traditions.  They draw heavily upon both bhakti and Shakta sources, the first represented mainly by the Adhyatma Ramayana and Tulsidasa's devotional version, the second by the Adbhuta Ramayana and various Shakta puranas.  With the passage of time, the influence of bhakti culture became more pronounced, leading to such inventions as the portrayal of Ravana as a secret devotee of Rama, borrowed  from the Adhyatma Ramayana, and the similar "demon devotee" motif in Bengali and Oriya versions which present the demon sons of Ravana as fervent, open, bhaktas whose highest wish is death at the hands of Rama. The mode of bhakti they display is not discussed in the Gaudian Vaishnava theoretical literature and seems to have ultimately developed from ideas
found in the Jaimini Bharata, a devotion al version of the Mahabharata. Shakta influences are less widespread. Some Shakta themes were adapted from the shakta puranas, emphasizing the power of the Great Goddess, making Ravana a devotee of Durga and Sita a manifestation of Kali who vanquishes Ravana.

Oral traditions of legend and belief exerted a great deal of influence on the eas tern Ramayanas.  Though most of such sources were local, some themes and motifs drifted in also from other regional traditions, such as the South Indian, an examp le being the identification of Sita as the daughter of Ravana.  The local oral traditions are often distinguished by their parochial character which can be very m uch at odds with the devotional reinterpretation of the epic, especially as they sometimes lend a comic flavor. Hanuman, the ideal devotee, is portrayed as a clow nish glutton, Dasaratha, Vishvamitra and even Rama as timid yokels, preferring to run from danger rather than face it. In sum, the forms that the Ramayana took in the medieval literatures of eastern I ndia not only show a vast narrative and conceptual complexity but provide ways to  understand the literary, ethical and religious history of the linguistic cultures of the region.

Sally J. Goldman, University of California at Berkeley
Gendered Narratives: Gender, Space, and Narrative Structures in Valmiki's Ramayana
In earlier discussions I have looked at the Sundarakanda of Valmiki's Ramayana with an eye towards understanding how gender and spacpe can be used as a guide to understanding the narrative structure of the epic.[1] For example, there, among other things, I explain how, the leap of the monkey Hanuman and his encounters with various figures, primarily Surasa and Sikhika, are intentionally gendered episodes and internal to the structural integrity of the kanda.  This paper will look at the larger epic in a similar light, in an attempt to demonstrate how the structure of the epic narrative can, likewise, be understood as gendered.  I will argue that the narrative gendering is reflected, in part, by the gendering of the physical space in which the various episodes of the epic occur. This marking of space is systematic, intentional, and necessary for the internal logic of the narrative.

[1]  "Re-siting Sita: Gender and Narrative in Valmiki's Sundarakanda" A Paper Presented at The Sita Symposium: Columbia University, New York, New York. May 1-3, 1998, Sally J. Sutherland Goldman; "The Political and Social Ramifications of the Construction of Gender in the Valmiki Ramayana." In Proceedings of The Ramayana and the Cultural History of India Conference. Hyderabad: Delhi: Sage Publications, 1995.

Heidi Pauwels, University of Washington, Seattle
"'Only you.' The wedding of Rama and Sita past and present."
In this paper, I will compare three different versions of the episode of the wedding of Sita and Rama, namely the one in Valimiki-Ramayana, Tulsidas's Ramcaritmanas  and the TV version by Ramanand Sagar.  I will analyze how the classical, medieval, and contemporary portrayals differ from each other and speculate on the relevance of the differences in the contemporary context. I will discuss also the exceptional "vow of monogamy" or ekapatnivrata of Rama.
Laura Sears, University of Washington, Seattle
"Why Javanese Puppeteers Don't Like Ramayana Stories"
This presentation will look at Javanese shadow puppets as material objects that encode various beliefs in central Java about character, ethics, behavior, and morals.  Why are Mahabharata stories more interesting to Javanese audiences?  How do Javanese shadow puppeteers adapt Mahabharata puppets to tell Ramayana stories?  How is the linearity of the Ramayana narrative subverted in Javanese stories?  These and other questions will be explored to explain the intricate connections--and perhaps artificial distinctions--between Ramayana and Mahabharata stories in central Java.
Julie Mehta, Journalist  & Independent Scholar of Cambodian Art, Bangkok
Sitas Story Retold: The Great Thai-Khmer Spectacle of visual and performing arts
 The study  attempts to showcase through the rich visual and performing arts traditions of Thailand and Cambodia the living context of the story of the Ramayana today, in the cultural milieu of these two nations of Southeast Asia. With eleven years of on site research and published work behind her, that centred around the Hindu influences on the sculpture, dance, theatre and living mythology incorporated in the  artistic manifestations of the the two countries, with specific reference to the Ramayana, it is the author's premise that the host cultures have added many new and complex dimensions to a very popular epic - sometimes most significantly transforming the plot, the characters and even the moral issues of the Valmiki version into a multi-dimensional, novel representation that begs analysis.

Thus, once sculpted in dazzling detail on the 1000-year-old stone galleries of Angkor Wat and still frequently performed at the royal courts of Cambodia and Thailand, the great India epic Ramayana finds novel expressions in the Thai and Khmer living tradition of the Ramkien and the Reamker. For instance, he Hindu goddess Sita, Sida in these Southeast Asian versions, almost becomes a murder victim by her  husband Rama's decree. In another complex evolution, the revered and celebate monkey God Hanuman from the original version, takes on the trappings of a Casanova in the both the Reamker and the Ramakien, in what might appear to many traditionalists as a shocking role reversal.

And there's more: the feisty exchange between Sita and Rama and the intervention of Lord Shiva who admonished Rama for his unjust treatment of his consort are all refreshing elements that change the denouement and add a new spin to an old tale that has become perhaps the most prevalent icon of the powerful influence of India on ancient Kambuja and Shyamdesa. These aspects differ greatly from the Indian version and  make for interesting investigation and debate.

 In Thailand, Rama still reigns : Dynasties have have been named after him. Shrines have been built for him. Roads have been inaugurated in his honour. And battles have been waged in his name through the and breadth of Thailand.The present monarch HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej is seen as the ideal king and worshipped as RamaIX, of the Chakri dynasty by the Thai people. Effectively, the issue of political utilitarianism in the context of the Ramayana will also be up for discussion. In fact, the very idea of kingship in Thailand was moulded on the ideal of this great hero. And though primarily Buddhist countries all, Thailand and Cambodia wore the mantle of Rama with pride and glory, slipping the godking easily into their well-entrenched cultural fabric which was already familiar with the worship of the Hindu gods Shiva and Vishnu as devaraja as far back as the early years of Angkorean splendour during the reign of Jayavarman II.
And sa the study will show by audio and visual aids, the Ramayana tradition has lived in the temples, murals, highways and bylanes, domestic shrines, the famous khon masked performances and puppets - the nang yai and the nanag talung - the bedtime stories and songs and the glory of a 1000-year-old dance tradition that harks back to the court of Jayavarman II, way back in the early years of the ninth century. But mostly it is alive in the hearts of the people who have made the Indian epic their very own.

A Celebration of the Epic "Ramayana"

June 20-22, 7:30-9:00pm
Museum of Anthropology

The Ramayana  is an epic story that is enjoyed and appreciated for its spiritual depth, wisdom and insight, as well as for its tales of abduction, battle and courtship filled with heroes, deities and demons.  For three nights in June, the Museum is proud to host a series of Indian and Indonesian dance and musical performances drawn from this classic.

This event is sponsered by the Program in Inter-Cultural Studies in Asia, the Centre fo India and South Asia Research at the Institute of Asian Research, the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies (PWIAS) and the Musuem of Anthropology.

These performances are being held in conjunction with the Mediating Cultures  workshop sponsered by the PWIAS.


June 20: FREE
June 21 & 22: $7 adult, $5 student
( Purchase at the door or in advance by calling 822-5978)
Tuesday, June 20
Dipa Bannerjee sings classical Northern Indian Music of the Agra gharana.  Sudnya Naik perfoms the Golden Deer episode of the Ramayana  in classical Indian Bharatanatym style (Southern India) with live musical accompaniment.

Wednesday, June 21
Sutrisno Hartana performs Indonesian dance and wayang kulit (shadow puppet theatre), both based on stories from the Ramayana.  The Vancouver Community Gamelan (Javanese) accompanies these performances.

Thursday, June 22
Classical Indian Dance in the Bharatanatym style by Jai Govinda and his dance company performing episodes from the Ramayana.

Contact Information

Dr. Mandakranta Bose
Director, CISAR
Institute of Asian Research
C. K. Choi Buliding
University of British Columbia
1855 West Mall
Vancouver BC V6T 1Z2
(t) 604-822-6463


Amandeep Mann
Gordan Djurdjevic