Hai raam ke vajud pe hindostan ko naaz
ahl-e-nazar samajhte haiñ is ko imām-e-hind
(India prides on the personality of Ram and the wise ones call him ‘Imaam-e-Hind’)
Famous Urdu poet Allam Iqbal has beautifully summarised the country’s sentiment for Lord Rama in the poem. The image of a brave, calm, righteous king has encouraged people not just from our country but from many countries from South East Asia to revere him, worship him, and include him as a part of their popular sub-culture. My own personal memory of Ram is of my granny who revered the god and worshipped an old frame which was a rip-off of the Raja Ravi Varma’s painting of Ram.
As per an Express report, Ram has a great resonance in the world’s largest Islamic country Indonesia. It is historically believed that the two Great Indian Epics were carried to Indonesia by various traders, warriors, craftsmen, priests, and poets. Various Indonesian and Javanese inscriptions (Sanskrit) dating from 8th to 10th century CE frequently mention the terms Raghav, Bharat, Lanka, Ravan, Sita, Ram, Vali, Ramayan, and Lakshman. While the earliest known written copy of Ramkatha in Indonesia known as the Ramayan Kakawain was written by Yogiswar (10th century), later various other versions were added to it. Lara Jonggrang also has the glory of holding a full pictorial representation of the Ramayan (Balakanda to Uttarakanda). Interestingly, the town closest to this temple is known as Yogyakarta, which in old Javanese means Ayodhya (Ram’s birthplace). It is believed by many experts that East Java itself claims to hold 1,200 versions of Ramayana.
Indonesia’s official tourism website talks eloquently about the Kecak dance that is themed on Ramayana. Held in the open air at sunset, usually above a cliff facing the sea, the drama depends entirely on the natural light of day. Starting at dusk, the story continues into the dark, when only light comes only from flickering bamboo torches. What makes this dance particularly unique is that the drama uses no artificial backdrop, involving no musical instrument. The focus is entirely on the concentric circles of about 50-60 men, bare-chested, wearing only distinct Balinese sarongs sitting cross-legged around a set of torches in the center.
Instead of the traditional “gamelan” orchestra which usually accompanies other Balinese traditional performances, the Kecak is simply accompanied by the chanting of the chorus of men representing an army of monkeys continuously intoning “Cak! Cak! Cak!” or “Keh-Chak" in polyrhythmic sounds during almost the entire performance.
Our neighbour Sri Lanka also proudly talks about the various Ramayana sites on its official tourism website. It talks about the Sita Kotuwa or the Sita’s palace. As per the website’s admission, it is believed that the city of Lankapura once stood in these jungles. The city had a beautiful palace for Queen Mandothari surrounded by waterfalls, streams, and varieties of flora and fauna. Sitadevi was kept in this palace until she was moved to Ashoka Vatika. Sita Kotuwa means Sita’s fort and got its name because of Sita's stay here.
There is also a Sita Amman temple. There is a stream by the side of the temple. It is believed that Sitadevi bathed in the stream. It is interesting to note that footprints akin to Lord Hanuman’s are found on the rocks along this river and some are of small size and some are of large size, which indicating the immense power of Lord Hanuman transforming himself into any size. It is interesting how the legend of the Lord continues to enthrall one and all.
In Myanmar, Rama story is called “Rama Thagyam” or “Rama Vathu”, in Thailand it is called “Ramakien”, in Laos “Phra Lak Phra Lam”, in Cambodia as “Ramaker”, Malaysia as “Hikayat Seriram” and in Indonesia as “Rama Kakavin” or “Rama Kavya".
In Thailand, Ramayana is known as Ramakien which is also the National Book of Thailand and is called Ayutthaya. The kings of Thailand are considered the descendants of Rama. The story of Ramayana is very popular in Thailand. Various types of dramatic and dance-based Ramayana are organised and performed in Thailand.
In Burma it is called ‘Yamayana’, in Burma Rama is called ‘Yama’ and ‘Sita’ is called ‘Me Thida’. In Cambodia it is called Ramaker or Ramakerti, which is the Cambodian epic poem based on Ramayana, the name means ‘Glory of Rama’, which shows the balance of good and evil in the world.
In Japan, ‘Hobutsushu’ and ‘Sambo-Ekotoba’ are the most popular versions. In another version is known as Bontenkoku, Tamawaka (Lord Rama) is portrayed as a flute player who rescues Himegini (Sita), his wife who was being held captive by King Baramon (Ravana).
Lord Ram entered the imagination of these countries through the several business and cultural exchanges that they had with India centuries ago. However, the imagery of Ram still revolves around that of a family man, destructor of evil, and a King who cares and loves his subjects.