In Thailand there are many versions of Ramayana, however the two most influential versions are known as Ramakirti (the glory of Rama) and Ramakien (Rama’s story). The storyline and the chain of events are more or less similar to that of Valmiki’s Ramayana – what is different here is the treatment given to some events and some characters. We will delve on those differences.
The epic Ramayana seems to have had the most impact on the Thai culture to the extent that many in Thailand do not even acknowledge that the Ramayana is an Indian epic. They identify the epic with their ancestors and consider it to be their own. The impact of Ramayana is so strong that one can find paintings depicting scenes from the epic on the Buddhist temples and their dance dramas are generally based on Ramayana!
|A stage adaptation of Ramkien in Thailand|
In the Thai Ramayana, the epic opens with the creation of the humans, the demons and the simians. The epic more or less follows the storyline created by Sage Valmiki. However, there are some notable differences as identified by AK Ramanujan. Let us go through some of them –
y The banishment of Sita is very dramatic in the Thai version. According to this, the daughter of Surpanakha has grown up and is waiting to avenge the insult of her mother. She takes up service as a maid in the inner chambers of Sita and befriends her in due course of time. At one point of time, she induces her to draw a picture of Ravana, which is indelible (in some versions, it comes to life in Sita’s bedroom) and forces Ram’s attention. Ram is enraged and orders the killing of Sita, but Lakshaman leaves her in the jungle.
y The birth of Sita too is different here. According to this version, when Dasharath performs his sacrifice, he receives a rice ball (not the rice payasam, as in Valmiki’s version). A crow steals some of the rice ball and gives it to Ravana’s wife, who eats it and delivers a baby girl, who according to a prophesy, would be responsible for the death of Ravana. Ravana then throws the baby Sita in the sea, but the sea god protects her and gives her to King Janaka. Though this is different from the original, there is a commonality in the idea of Sita being Ravana’s daughter with many other Indian versions.
y Another important aspect of the Thai Ramayana is that it does not focus on the emotional aspects of Ramayana – longing, pain, separation, etc. as is the case with many Indian versions. The Thai version focuses more on the Yuddhakanda, or the war portion and the abduction of Sita. The descriptions of the battle scenes along with the techniques, the weapons find an elaborate mention. According to scholars, this is due to the fact that the early Thai history is full of war and strife and the entire focus then was more on survival. The same has found focus in their rendition of the epic. Another classic case for assimilation of the epic.
y In the entire epic, though Ram is an incarnation of Vishnu, he is shown as subordinate to Shiva. Also, he is depicted as a human hero and not the godly avatar. Further, the Thai audience enjoy the character of Hanuman more than that of Ram (a far cry from any of the versions being discussed). In the Thai version, Hanuman is neither a celibate nor as devout as in other versions. Rather he is shown as a mischievous element and quite a ladies-man, who doesn’t think twice before peeping into the bedrooms of people during his maiden visit to Lanka, which would be a taboo for any of the Indian versions.
y Finally the character of Ravana too is different here. In the Thai version of Ramakirti, Ravana is admired for his learning and his abduction of Sita is seen as an act of love and is not looked down upon, even if she is someone else’s wife! Thai audience are impressed by Ravana’s sacrifice of his people and kingdom for the love of a woman. His dying words are a subject of a famous love poem, written during the 19th century. The death of Ravana is a sad event, and not an act of celebration as in the case of Valmiki’s version.
This might be sacrilegious to many, but this has to be seen in the light of the fact that the Thai’s like their characters as humans, who are a combination of good and evil. They don’t believe in ‘perfect’ characters like the ones created by Valmiki, but like them with a blend of human emotions which range from love, sacrifice and a bit of mischievous devilry!
Next we will read about the tribal version of Ramayana