“The Ramayana is not just a story: it presents the teachings of ancient Hindu sages, which are Vedas, in narrative allegory, interspersing philosophical and devotional elements. There are tons of books that are part of this one Hindu epic. The characters Rama who is the hero and loved by all people; Sita who is Rama’s wife and is supposed to represent purity; Lakshmana who is Rama’s younger brother and loyal to his brother; Bharata who is Rama’s step-brother; Hanuman is kind of like the advisor to Rama; and Ravana who was the king of Lanka at that time. They are all fundamental to the understanding of culture in India. Originally it is in Sanskrit, then translated all in Indian and even in some other foreign languages. It basically tells the story of Rama, who is an avatar of the Hindu preserver-God Vishnu, whose wife Sita is abducted by the demon king of Lanka, Ravana. The Ramayana explores human values and the concept of Dharma. You can tell that it is important, because it is nowadays re-enacted in dance-dramas, village theatre, shadow-puppet shows and the annual Ram-lila, which is the favorite of all festivals in northern India.”
The informant is the mother of one of my friends, who came to visit her son from her hometown of Dubai, India. She seemed very interested in talking about the lore of her culture, and began by telling me about an epic known as Ramayana. As the informant indicated, it is performed and written in numerous Indian dialects. She believed that it would be complicated to provide me with all these translations; therefore, she saved me the expense and performed it in English. She indicated it was an epic and provided me with a brief background and synopsis.
She found this piece to be particularly appealing, because it depicts the roles of relationships, as it characterizes ideal characters, like the ideal father, ideal servant, ideal brother, the ideal wife, and the ideal king. It serves as an ancient Sanskrit epic which is usually performed at the level of a small stage in any Indian village. Interestingly, it became the highest-rated television soap opera in India. It can also be found in movies, like “Ramayana: The Legend of Prince Rama (1992),” starring Arun Govil, James Earl Jones and Amrish Puri. She was initially exposed to the Ramayana epic as a kid, because it was integrated in the stories she learned and was required to study it in school. As she grew older, she remembers watching it as stage and television drama. Nevertheless, the informant finds importance in sharing the Ramayana piece with her children and with others, because it provides an understanding of the Hindu religion teachings.
From hearing my informant’s rendition of the Ramayana and her responses to my questions, the epic appears to be this significant piece of Indian culture that gives natives and outsiders insight into the social and political condition of ancient India. It provides a social context by demonstrating how important it is to live by these ideal customs and morals. As she indicated, a strive for ideality is a big part of understanding the Ramayana and India. Similarly, it allows people to identify with particular characters and situations. Like each individual’s role in society, each character in the epic performs a specific role and how they perform it may serve as some type of example for how people should act and behave. Alternatively, a political purpose can be seen when we see how this particular epic is integral in school curriculum, television dramas, and national events (e.g. Ram-lila). The ability of the epic to be re-performed and re-told by the Indian population strongly suggests that the Ramayana is a big part of India’s national identity. That is, the Indian people have formed consensus on many of the beliefs, values, morals, and behaviors that are presented within the epic. And they want others to know that it defines a large part of the Indian culture.