Shurpanakhas Sorrow. Mappila Ramayana of Hassankuttythe Mad.
Ramayana Stories in Modern South India
Portrait Ramayana excerpt. Come Unto Me Janaki. Lakshmanas Laugh. List of Contributors. Whose Ramayana Is It? Shared Features. Woman of Stone. Why Ramkatha? Sita Locked Out. The selections focus on characters generally seen as stigmatized or marginalized, and on themes largely overlooked in previous scholarship. Editor Paula Richman demonstrates that twentieth-century authors have used retellings of the Ramayana to question caste and gender inequality in provocative ways.
Without cookies your experience may not be seamless. Institutional Login. LOG IN. In this Book. Indiana University Press. Additional Information. Table of Contents. Cover Download Save. Contents pp. The point of such renditions is not primarily to tell the story, since its incidents are already familiar to the vast majority of listeners, but to savor the goodness and compassion of Rama and participate in expressing devotion to him.
The earliest full, extant, devotional telling of Ramkatha in a regional language is Kambans Iramavataram Rama, the Avatara. Most scholars date this Old Tamil text to the twelfth century. Beloved among Rama devotees, Iramavataram has also won literary respect at least partly due to the sophisticated way in which Kamban draws upon classic conventions of poetry about love and war from Tamils earliest literary corpus ca.
Before the development of modern Malayalam, religious and political elites in what is today Kerala and Tamilnadu used Old Tamil for elevated discourse, so knowledge of Iramavataram extended beyond the limits of todays Tamilnadu into Kerala, thus cutting a wide swath across South India. Tellings of Ramkatha composed in regional languages between the twelfth and nineteenth centuries were responsible for expanding the diversity of the Ramayana tradition tremendously.
India boasts more than sixteen major languages, and nearly every major Indian literary tradition includes at least one well-known telling of Ramkatha. The descriptor bhasha language is sometimes attached to authors who deliberately choose to write not in a pan-Indian language such as Sanskrit, Persian, or English but in a language spoken primarily in a single geographical area of India.
By writing Ramkatha in these. Folk Tellings Folk tellings are more fluid than the first two categories of Ramkatha just discussed and often incorporate topical material. Folk tellings usually possess some or most of the following: they are anonymous or attributed to authors about whom almost nothing is known; composed in folk genres and often in local dialects; and often performed for religious occasions by non-professionals those who earn their living primarily by other occupations. Folk tellings provide more scope for improvisation than do fixed texts, allowing the narrative to be customized according to the predilections of storytellers and preferences of listeners.
In folk texts, perspectives on characters and episodes often differ significantly from those in the first two categories of Ramkatha discussed above. Folk tellings of Ramkatha have been recounted for centuries and continue to be told in rural areas today across the Indian subcontinent.
Furthermore, these renditions vary widely from locality to localitysometimes even from village to village. Womens songs and songs of men low in social rank have been especially generative of diversity within Ramayana tradition. Two features of folk stories prove especially relevant to modern Ramkatha tellings: they sometimes present episodes from non-authoritative perspectives and include characters not found in more widely known renditions. For example, some womens folksongs provide a fresh perspective on events by focusing on what they know best.
While Ramkatha by Valmiki, Tulsidas, and Kamban focus on deeds performed by men, such as priestly rites to attain royal heirs and details of battles, many womens songs barely mention these events, concentrating instead on the actions of women.
For example, songs sung by Brahmin Telugu-speaking women focus on Sita, describing her wedding rites, marital relations, and pregnancy. The songs also spotlight women such as Sitas mother-in-law Kausalya , her sister-in-law Shanta , and her sister Urmila. In this shadow-puppet drama, performers recite selected Tamil verses from Iramavataram by Kamban but supplement them with improvised stories and commentary in colloquial Malayalam. For example, one performance features a darkly comic interchange between Ravanas son, Indrajit, and his standard-bearer.
Indrajit learns that although he has felled many valiant warriors, the standardbearer must stab them afterward with his staff s tip to ensure that each one ac-. Thus, mighty Indrajit actually depends upon a nameless underling never even mentioned in Iramavataram. The servant who holds his warriors banner provides a bottom-up perspective on the grand narrative of battle. Familiarity with them, therefore, enables one to see how the modern tellings of Ramkatha showcased in this volume relate to earlier Sanskrit, regional, and folk tellings. In this way, continuities between earlier tellings and modern tellings of Ramkatha become visible.
Modern Retellings in the South This anthology proposes yet a fourth class of Ramkatha: modern retellings in prose or free verse printed in Indian regional languages in the last hundred years. Their composition was preceded by three major transformations: the growth of educational institutions, the availability of relatively affordable print technology for Indias regional scripts, and the increase in a regular readership for printed serials and monographs in regional languages. These historical changes allowed writers of literature in regional languages to tell Ramas story in their own way for their own time.
Yet modern printed tellings have been virtually unstudied as a category of Ramkatha because they are perceived by learned devotees or scholars as lacking some essential characteristic: authenticity, rusticity, devotionalism, respect, or modernity. Let us consider each of these claims in turn. Modern Tellings as a Category Some view Valmikis Ramayana as the only authentic Ramkatha and, therefore, denigrate recent retellings as merely derivative. Yet most scholars now acknowledge that Valmikis text, although it is deeply influential, need not be the benchmark according to which all other tellings should be judged as deviating.
Those who believe nothing except Valmikis Sanskrit Ramayana is worth reading do not usually find any counter-argument convincing, but it is worth pointing out that even the most ardent Valmiki fans have usually learned another telling in their regional tongue. In fact, since pious devotees consider hearing, reading, and savoring Ramas name and deeds as a meritorious devotional act, reading multiple renditions of the story provides more opportunities to earn merit.
Others insist that a telling of Ramkatha must well up from the consciousness of the volk folk or masses rather than from a single individual writer who may not represent true India. Yet those knowledgeable in the multiple narrative heritages of South Asia reject the claim that any single, monolithic, uncontested story can represent true India because India is, inarguably, a land of narrative diversity. In addition, recent research has revealed the misleading.
Some pious Hindus reject modern tellings of Ramkatha as not traditional enough.
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Yet such a stance contradicts the tenets of the bhakti movement, where the intensity of inner devotion, rather than practice of external rites, is paramount. Devotees of Rama have told, sung, and enacted his story in multiple ways. Indeed, expressing devotion to the deity in ones own tongue functions as a defining characteristic of bhakti. Indeed, several writers in this anthology viewed their rewriting of Ramkatha as an act of devotion. Some ideologues condemn modern tellings of Ramkatha as disrespectful. In the twentieth century, there were certain works that were written deliberately to shock or insult orthodox Hindus; such texts denigrated or belittled the story and its ideals.
In addition, as works of art, their renditions are carefully crafted through sophisticated use of literary elements such as characterization, allusion, imagery, and irony that are absent in solely political tellings of Ramkatha. The texts by the authors in this anthology stand out for their depth and seriousness of reflection. Whether modern authors agree with specific aspects of earlier renditions or not, they show an intimacy with Ramkatha rare in todays India.
Some people feel that traditional stories such as Ramkatha do not fit in todays India. Indeed, social reform novels, Marxist-inspired short stories about landless laborers, naturalistic dramas, and then minimalist and post-colonial writings have pushed aside older narratives. Referring to such stories as mythological texts, some see such materials as suitable only for pandits or folk performers. Yet many modern writers would disagree, citing as counterevidence that they draw upon, allude to, or rethink classic stories in their work.
Although much has changed since the days when poets earned their literary credentials by composing a verse Ramayana, retelling Ramkatha today still demands a gravity of intent that many writers welcome as a literary challenge worthy of their best effort. South India as a Ramayana Region The writers who composed the selections translated in this anthology grew up in, or were closely linked by family ties to, the region of South India.
Their understanding of Ramkatha is often shaped by the roles that the Ramayana tradition has played in South Indian cultural life. The following overview provides information about the geography and culture of South India and how they shaped the transmission, interpretation, and assessment of Ramkatha. Those familiar with the region may want to move on to the next section of this introduction.
Geography Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, and Malayalam belong to the Dravidian language family, the worlds fourth-largest language family, and share linguistic features that distinguish them from the Indo-Aryan language family that predominates in North India. Each Dravidian language, written in its own distinctive script, possesses a vital and growing literary tradition. Each language also ranks among the forty most widely spoken languages in the world. Today South India consists of four states see map 1. In addition, Malayalam speakers have lived on the Lakshadweep Islands off the Kerala coast and Tamil speakers have lived across the straits in todays Sri Lanka, especially in the northern part of the island.
This anthology includes a selection written by a Tamil poet from Sri Lanka 15 because Tamils there and in Tamil-speaking areas in South India share a literary culture and ongoing intellectual exchange that began long before the twentieth century. Second, from at least the fourteenth century, the Vijayanagar area in todays Karnataka state has been identified as the site of the capital of Kishkindha, the monkey kingdom in Ramkatha. Third, Rama is said to have amassed his army at Rameshvaram, the city at the southeastern edge of todays Tamilnadu, directly across the straits from Sri Lanka.
The association of Ravana with the South has played a key role in the cultural politics of twentieth-century South India. Ancient Sanskrit texts glorify the role of Aryas a term that originally meant well-born or noble ones , a group credited with preserving the earliest Vedic strata of Hindu texts. Beginning in the late s, some South Indian social critics identified Aryas as Brahmins and other high castes who colonized the South. In turn, they identified the creatures called rakshasas in Ramkatha with indigenous inhabitants of the South whom they classify as Dravidians after the linguistic term.
These critics and social reformers glorify Ravana as a great Dravidian mon-. Map 1. South India. This map is not intended to present every major city and town in South India or to show every place where one of the authors whose work is translated in this book was born. Instead, the map provides a basic geographical understanding of the shape, extent, and borders of the four regions in South India where Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, and Malayalam are spoken. Readers unfamiliar with India in the twenty-first century are also warned that many cities on the map possess more than one name and spelling.
The British formalized cartographic spellings, sometimes in idiosyncratic ways, during colonial rule. Indeed, some have been renamed in the last decade. Spellings on the map were used because they circulated for more than fourfifths of the twentieth century, when the majority of authors in this anthology wrote. In Tamilnadu, the Thanjavur area has been closely associated with veneration of Rama as perfect king, especially during the Chola dynastys imperial expansion. In Andhra Pradesh, Bhadrachalam is a major pilgrimage site for Rama devotees, while Kerala abounds in temples to Rama.
Many temples sponsor dance-dramas that depict Ramkatha episodes: men act out Ramayana stories in Kathakali dance-dramas while women perform in Mohini Attam dance-dramas. Ramkatha incidents are also presented in Karnatakas Yakshagana repertoire. Among those who do not know Valmikis text itself, many people who know Sanskrit have encountered summaries or abridgements of it.
Others may have studied short collections of its Sanskrit verses with a guru or in school. Thus, a number of authors whose selections appear in this anthology had at least some knowledge of Valmikis text. Even those who do not know Sanskrit can encounter Valmikis Ramayana through its translation into their regional language. Translation here denotes a rendition that not only preserves the originals plot and rhetoric but also attempts to represent its metrical form, number of lines, and other features of Sanskrit literary style.
Although relatively rare in the pre-colonial period, in the last hundred years such translations of Valmiki into regional languages have proliferated. Although the Hindi Ramcharitmanas has also been translated into South Indian languages in the past century, it plays a more limited role in South Indian cultural life than Valmiki. Hindi is an Indo-Aryan language, so it provides many challenges to those whose linguistic experience is limited to other Dravidian languages. In addition, because the impetus to learn Hindi came from the central government, a certain resentment of it runs high in the South, especially in Tamilnadu.
Finally, animosity toward religious texts that propagate social hierarchy has been strong and recurrent in the South, leading to harsh criticism of Ramcharitmanas verses such as this notorious one: Drum, rustic, Shudra, animal, woman: one has the right to beat all these. An adaptation retells Ramkatha in light of the context of the literary culture.
Most regional devotional tellings of Ramkatha discussed in the section above titled Classifying Ramayanas are adaptations. Adaptations have exerted great influence on local perceptions of Ramkatha because they allow far more scope for creativity and artfulness than a literal translation. The earliest major adaptation in South India, Kambans Tamil Iramavataram, follows Valmikis plot closely and Kamban openly acknowledges his debt to Valmiki.
Yet Kambans poetry, composed of individual couplets each of which functions as a tiny poem in itself, makes the experience of hearing and reading Iramavataram quite different from that of Valmikis text. In terms of characterization, for example, he depicts Bharata as nearly as self-sacrificing as Rama. In terms of setting, he shifts Ayodhya from a North Indian landscape to the landscape of Tamil country. As a regional adaptation of Valmikis story, Kambans Iramavataram has long been embraced as an authoritative and quintessentially Tamil telling of Ramkatha. An adaptation sometimes announces itself as a retelling of a prestigious earlier Ramkatha rendition: Eluttacchans sixteenth-century Malayalam Ramkatha takes the same name as the anonymous fourteenth-century Sanskrit text, Adhyatma Ramayana.
Nonetheless, Eluttacchans text differs greatly from its namesake in form since Eluttacchan wrote it as a kilippattu, a South Indian literary genre in which a parrot recites the text to a poet. Among Malayalam speakers, Eluttacchans Adhyatma Ramayana remains beloved today. Many Hindus in Kerala recite parts of it in domestic daily worship.
No single Telugu telling of Ramkatha has won the status of the classic Telugu rendition. Telugu literature thus shows how recognition accorded to regional tellings of Ramkatha differs from language to language. Finally, Kannada literature nurtured two robust strands of Ramkatha that flourished side by side. For several centuries, the prestige gained by composing Jain Ramayanas rivaled that of composing Hindu Ramayanas in the Kannadaspeaking region. The ideological differences between Jain and Hindu beliefs and practices shaped narrative differences between the two texts.
For example, most Hindu tellings culminate with Rama slaying Ravana, but most Jain tellings culminate. In addition, while Hindu Ramayanas depict the superhuman deeds of divine and demonic characters, Jain tellings debunk claims of miraculous deeds or give naturalistic explanations for them. For example, Jain texts say that Ravana does not have ten heads. Instead, when he was a child, his mother gave him a mirrored necklace whose ten gems reflected his head.
Kannadas two lineages of Ramkatha exemplify another key feature of South Indian literary tradition: diversity across religious affiliation. For example, Muslims in the Malabar region of Kerala developed their own telling of Ramkatha, a translation of which appears in this anthology In addition, for generations, Muslim Tamil savants have studied and commented upon Iramavataram. Whether authors represented in this anthology regard a single telling of Ramkatha as authoritative or not, most know at least one major Ramkatha in their regional language and some know several, ranging from written texts to local folksongs.
Several writers in this volume, such as K. Puttappa, explicitly reject the idea that Valmikis Ramayana should be considered the authoritative text Other authors express indifference toward all prior renditions. For instance, Pudumaippittan precedes his story of Ahalya by announcing defiantly that he does not care whether readers find his story unfamiliar or unpalatable 14 , a statement that implies that at least some readers would be familiar with previous tellings of Ahalyas story.
Since the writers in this anthology retell Ramkatha episodes innovatively, almost all of this volumes selections differ in some way from the influential Sanskrit and regional language adaptations. Consequently, the selections in this anthologyeither in intent or results or bothoppose or supplement one or more earlier Ramkatha tellings. As a region where Ramkatha has been told openly in multiple ways, South India has nurtured narrative diversity in the past.
As this anthologys selections demonstrate, the South continues to support narrative diversity today, in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Shared Features The Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, and Malayalam authors whose work appears in this volume wrote in a multi-linguistic context. Some could have imitated earlier South Indian poets by composing in Sanskrit, the pan-Indian language patronized by most monastic, temple, and royal elites. Others could have chosen English, a second language for many educated South Indian professionals in the twentieth century. The development of new print technology, the advent of standard orthogra-.
The section below examines two factors that shaped how the authors in this anthology retold Ramkatha and how readers responded to their tellings. First, authors openly criticized caste and gender hierarchy. Second, writers developed emerging genres and styles in ways that created opportunities for new forms of expression. These factors encouraged the asking of fresh questions and contributed to the growing tendency to rethink ancient narratives. By doing so resourcefully and creatively, the authors in this anthology have prompted readers to reconsider a story heard many times before.
Caste, Gender, and Hierarchy A number of selections in this anthology retell Ramas story in ways that contest the gender and caste prescriptions in Valmikis Ramayana, as well as in later texts that reiterate Valmikis ideological commitments. Many writers in modern South India differ openly with Ramkatha predecessors about the role of caste, a form of hereditary social stratification. Modern ideals of equality, liberty, and individuality shape how todays readers assess actions taken by characters in Ramkatha in relation to caste hierarchy.
The stakes for reinterpreting such Ramkatha episodes are high, both for authors and their audiences. One of the first retellings of Ramkatha to provide an explicit and trenchant critique of gender hierarchy along with caste hierarchy was written in Malayalam by Kumaran Asan. He was born into a family of Ezhavas, a backward jati sub-caste considered among the lowest in Kerala, whose members were, in his day, prohibited from even walking on the road leading to certain temples. Asan served for many years on his teachers ashram, where he began his poem Sita Immersed in Reflection 6 , which contains an acutely observant evaluation of Ramas treatment of women and Shudras.
One of the earliest documented public controversies about rewriting Ramkatha according to egalitarian principles emerged in response to Kuvempu K. Puttappas play Shudra Tapasvi Shudra Ascetic The controversy, played out in print and public debate, throws into relief the issues that surface when Ramkatha is retold by writers consigned by brahminical ranking to the low rungs of caste hierarchy. Puttappa, born into a Shudra family, venerated Rama and respected his compassion for living creatures.
In Valmikis telling, when a Brahmin complains to Rama that the Shudra Shambuka is performing tapas asceticism , Rama cuts off his head. Puttappa did not believe either that Rama would condemn a person for performing a religiously sanctioned form of self-discipline or that Rama would kill an otherwise admirable human being for doing tapas, so he rewrote the story in way that spared Sham-. Puttappas rendition has Rama put the Brahmin in a position where he personally experiences the dharmic power produced by Shambukas tapas.
At the climax of the play, the Brahmin realizes his error; simultaneously Rama shows that asceticism is a religious practice open to all. Famed Kannada writer Masti Venkatesha Iyengar, a prominent Brahmin intellectual who viewed Puttappa as his protg, found the play offensive. Furthermore, he instructed Puttappa to desist from writing mythological stories unless he was willing to respect traditional beliefs. Indeed, Iyengar warned Puttappa to focus on contemporary rather than ancient themes, and to employ the new style called social realism if he wanted to advocate new forms of social behavior.
Puttappa refused. In fact, he published Iyengars critique, along with his own rejoinder, in all subsequent editions of his play, turning their debate into a famous episode in Kannada literary history. Other writers in this anthology who, like Puttappa, sought new relationships with traditional narratives refused, as did Puttappa, to view material found in religious texts such as epics and puranas as off-limits to them. Instead, they insisted on setting the terms by which they would relate to past texts. Their stories give voice to these characters, to the satisfaction of many readers and the dismay of othersparticularly those with strictly authoritative interpretations of the story.
Criticism of caste is one of the most prevalent themes in this anthology.
Although many have decried caste hierarchy, its denunciation by writers in this anthology carries a particular sting because it occurs narratively in a retelling of Ramkatha, rather than just in a political debate. Furthermore, writers in this volume have created multiple ways to incorporate questioning of caste restrictions into their literary works. For example, Puttappa did so by reconceptualizing the character of Rama and Shambuka 11 , Asan by exploring the crests and troughs of Sitas inner thoughts 6 , and Kavanasarma by satirizing contemporary life Modern tellings also denounce womens oppression in Ramkatha.
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Critique of womens subordination to men in Ramkatha emerged relatively early in the twentieth century. Later, women published their own responses to the depiction of women in Ramkatha, as can be seen, for example, in Lalitha Lenins extensive critique of patriarchy It is noteworthy, however, that Asan and Puttappa, both low caste authors keenly aware that patriarchy can encompass other forms of discrimination as well, were among the earliest modern writers in the South to censure openly caste and gender subordination in Ramkatha.
Ramayana Stories in Modern South India: An Anthology - Google книги
The authors in this anthology include Non-Brahmins and Brahmins, as well. Subramania Bharatis animal fable lampoons elaborate brahminical sacrificial rites 17 , while the publications of Chalam, who rebelled violently against his Brahmin upbringing, include some of the most virulent and thorough-going criticisms of patriarchy in the first three-quarters of the twentieth century 5.
Brahmin writer Kavanasarma attacks caste and gender hierarchy as they intersect in the sexual assaults of high caste men on low caste women One might surmise that Non-Brahmins would not bother to rewrite Ramkatha since they have a smaller stake in making brahminical texts seem acceptable in todays world, but evidence suggests otherwise: Non-Brahmin writers from the middling ranks of Hindu society also rewrote Ramkatha. For example, Pudumaippittan was a Vellala, a Non-Brahmin jati whose members often received education in Tamil religious texts. Furthermore, because Pudumaippittan read broadly and voraciously in Tamil, he had knowledge of religious beliefs and ritual that enabled him to write cutting satires of brahminical practice.
Pudumaippittan was steeped in Kambans Iramavataram, upon which he drew to retell Ramkatha In addition to authors born into middling or Shudra families, the anthology also includes the works of those whom higher castes viewed as outside the caste hierarchy altogether.
Today, members of such groups usually refer to themselves as Dalits, which means people who were ground down or crushed. His talent won him the chance to direct plays at the cutting edge of Kannada theater, but he chose to revive Puttappas play, Shudra Tapasvi, because he realized that it could speak to both Dalits and Non-Dalits about some of their deepest aspirations for equality Reinterpretations of Ramkatha by women from various social locations are showcased in this anthology as well.
As was true of male authors, a number of the female authors were born into Brahmin families. In the earliest period covered in this volume, very few women wrote stories that found their way into print, at least under their own names. Among them was Kumudini, who grew up in and married into an observant Brahmin family in the temple city of Sri Rangam. She felt so comfortable with, and knowledgeable about, the characters in Ramkatha that she introduced humor into her accounts of their daily dilemmas, treating them like next-door neighbors 2.
Also contained in this volume is a short story by K. Sreedevi, who was raised in an orthodox jati of Kerala Brahmins. Her protagonist, Ahalya, condemns Ramas unfair treatment of Sita in a particularly dramatic manner Even more recent is the poem by Vijaya Dabbe, which asks Sita why she did not voice protest against being silenced and humiliated 1.
Revealing how some non-elite women perceived Ramkatha, these songs circulated before, during, and after the first few decades of the twentieth century. Since an individual singer cannot be held responsible for the contents of songs that have been passed down for generations, views that women would be unlikely to express in public, such as those that contest authoritative tellings of Ramkatha, are expressed in a number of womens songs.
Thus, it is not surprising that some womens songs share with other selections in this volume a tendency to re-assess the lives of characters depicted as virtuous in authoritative Ramkatha. Some of these womens songs depict women and men of lower, as well as higher, castes in realistic, un-idealized ways, thus suggesting the unreasonable nature of standards of virtue, as exemplified by certain characters as they are portrayed in authoritative tellings of Ramkatha.
The song condemns the ongoing patriarchal treatment with which some married women must live on a regular basis. Lakshmanas Laugh 22 suggests that each character in Ramkatha has shortcomings, all the way from Sita to Nala, the engineer supervising the construction of the bridge to Lanka. It is crucial to recognize that, along with the other selections in Ramayana Stories in Modern South India, the folksongs are also part of modern print culture.
Intriguingly, early Indian nationalism created a market for the publication of folklore, enabling narratives previously transmitted by word of mouth to reach people through print. Two Telugu folksongs appeared in a compendium of Telugu Brahmin womens songs 3, 22 , whose compiler declared that the quality of these songs entitles them to the same attention as mens published poetry. Thus, books of folklore took for granted literate readers, distribution networks, and the habit of reading. Yet the transition from oral rendition to print can sometimes be an explosive one, as is shown by the events following the publication of Mappila Ramayana 19 thirty years ago.
The song had circulated among Mappilas, Muslims living in the forested Malabar area of Kerala, but had remained virtually unknown outside that area until , when M. Karassery transcribed it as part of his Ph. Some Non-Mappila Muslims in Kerala insisted that Muslims would not sing such a song because it dealt with a Hindu story. Instead, such a claim shows how notions of Muslim and Hindu were too narrow to account for the diversity of.
Outside Kerala, readers had little idea that a Ramkatha episode was sung by Muslims in Malayalam until debates about the song were covered in non-Malayalam newspapers. Along with the Jain Ramayanas of Karnataka, the Mappila Ramayana in print also attests to the multiple religious affiliations of those who retell Ramkatha in South India. Modes of Expression and Literary Genres Modern authors helped to transform South Indian literary culture through use of new modes of expression to represent and interpret Ramkatha.
One hundred years ago, most literary elites viewed poetry, rather than prose, as the appropriate form for elevated literary expression. Furthermore, poets adhered to highly stylized conventions governing the subject matter suitable for particular genres, the depiction of protagonists, and the meters appropriate for such subject matter. Over the past one hundred years, Ramkatha writers have actively experimented with new modes of expression. Several poets whose texts appear in this anthology shifted from meters whose form was highly prescribed to blank verse vers libre or prose.
Some writers modified written expression to bring it closer to spoken language. Others pioneered, broadened, or established new literary genres. During the period covered in this anthology, several ways emerged to provide more freedom for writers of elevated literary works. For example, in his early plays, K. Puttappa created a special form of verse for use in dramas by removing from the lalitha regale meter its initial and end rhyme The new form, sarala regale, lacks rhyme and restriction on the number of metrical feet, thereby allowing the semantic freedom of prose while providing the intensity of expression supplied by verse.
For example, hitherto prose in Tamil had been used mainly for writing government reports, translating English newspapers, serializing novels in popular magazines, or composing grammatical exegeses on religious texts by learned commentators. Pudumaippittan, whose short stories helped to transform Tamil prose into a form for high literature, stated in , Until the present time, Tamil prose has not had any [literary] standing.
Even the words used in literature were changing during this period. For example, previously Ramkatha characters in Telugu conversed in formal writ-. As Narayana Rao explains, Tradition so far had dictated that all mythological characters speak a dialect removed from modern speech, filled with Sanskritic and archaic forms of Telugu. This strategy elevated the characters above the human level and provided them with an aura of distance and divinity.
For example, Chalam 5 depicted both gods and demons as talking in ordinary language. As written language broke free of requirements of formal expression, fresh options opened up. For instance, Tamil poet C. Subramania Bharati 17 was inspired by, and wrote poems drawing on, folk meters.
The transformation of prose facilitated experiments with new stylistic techniques. Unlike court-bound literary precursors beholden to patrons interested primarily in eulogistic verse, twentieth-century writers enjoyed a range of formal options. Techniques such as flashback 13 , stream of consciousness 16 , use of regional dialect 20 , and narrative exposition about characters states of mind 6, 14 expanded the repertoire of literary effects that writers could produce. These techniques enhanced the extent to which writers could express new perspectives on an ancient narrative.
In terms of genre as well, writers utilized new options. For example, Kumaran Asan found maha-kavya, a form of epic poetry appropriate for depicting epic events in court and on the battlefield, unsuitable for the psychological depth he sought to depict in some of his poetry about Sita.
Instead, he created the khanda-kavya khanda means piece or part , which enabled him to focus on one small portion of a story and depict the interior life of chosen characters. This new poetic genre proved especially suitable when Asan delved into Sitas feelings in Sita Immersed in Reflection 6. For example, the story of Ahalya 13, 14, 16 has drawn widespread attention from modern writers who have examined her situation from a variety of perspectives. Indeed, cogniscenti of fiction rank Pudumaippittans re-consideration of Ahalyas fate among this master writers most brilliant short stories.
Two narrative techniques have yielded fruitful results in short stories: imagining what would have transpired after the incident, as recorded, ended 13, 14 and imagining how the incident would have occurred if it took place today, rather than in ancient times 2, 7, The theatrical genre too was enriched by playwrights who sought to write new forms of drama. The plays translated in this anthology differ notably from existing kinds of theater prevalent in the first decades of the twentieth century. At that time, performances consisted primarily of ritual theater for temple fes-.
In contrast, the scripts translated in this volume are of two types: those for reading and those that incorporate folk elements. Rather than intended for enactment, two theatrical scripts were composed primarily to be read. The authors, therefore, focused their literary efforts not on blocking out action but on crafting sophisticated dialogues between characters who held opposing views. Chalams seldom-performed two-person script, Sita Enters the Fire, is too short and unconventional for commercial theater 5.
Puttappa employed dramatic dialogue in Shudra Tapasvi to create a spellbinding debate between Rama and a caste-minded Brahmin about the nature of asceticism. In Puttappas preface, he states that the play works better if one envisions it in the minds eye rather than on stage The growth of literacy as well as the linked habit of solitary reading ensured readers for the plays of Chalam and Puttappa, whether performed or not.
As many involved with modern forms of theater moved away from elite texts, some came to view local folk theater as a repository that could be drawn upon in addition to, or instead of, Sanskrit dramatic traditions. For example, when Basavalingaiah re-staged Puttappas Shudra Tapasvi in , he transformed the play into riveting spectacle by incorporating masks, songs, and dance drawn from folk theater in Karnataka Folk drama also plays a crucial role in Portrait Ramayana 20 , a play that explores Sita and Shurpanakha as two sides of todays woman.
A chorus that sings in a Kannada folk performance style provides ongoing commentary about unfolding events, using a zesty rural dialect that locates the story in a specific place. Each production uses folk elements not superficially as add-ons but knowledgeably to enhance narrative intensity and to connect it to local geography.
The specificity of locale so crucial in folk drama also influenced G. Aravindans film, Kanchana Sita 9. Aravindan shot his footage in a remote area of Andhra Pradesh, using as his cast selected members of a community of Koyas tribals based in that area, whose members believe that their lineage descends from Rama. As with Portrait Ramayanas use of rural Kannada dialect, Aravindan uses the Koyas to locate his telling of Ramkatha in the soil of South India and set it among a group of people for whom Rama looms large in selfconception and oral history.