Three Ramayana, Rama Jataka, and Ramakien: A Comparative Study of Hindu and Buddhist Traditions
In the history and literature of religions few stories have been told as many different times in as many different ways as the story of Rama. For at least two thousand years—and probably longer—various versions of the story have been told in India and Sri Lanka; for over a thousand years—and probably much longer still—these and other versions have been told in Central and Southeast Asia, in China and Japan. Now, increasingly, the story is being told in the West as well.
The story of Rims has been recited, sung, and commented on by bards, priests, and monks. It has been dramatized and danced in royal courts and in rustic villages. It has been depicted in the sculpture and art of innumerable temples in capital cities and faraway provinces. Its characters have been the subjects of worship, and the events that the story recounts have been associated with famous places that mark the geography of various locales.
What is more, certain episodes in the story have been singled out, taking on special significance in particular contexts. Segments of the story have been presented in order to evoke religious devotion, to glorify royal sponsors (often in direct opposition to other royal competitors), to inculcate moral values, to express and cultivate aesthetic sensitivities, and—perhaps most of all—simply to provide popular entertainment. Particular segments of the story have also been performed for other less obviously related purposes. For example, in certain very popular rituals in southern Thailand the enactment of certain episodes from the Rama story (most notably that in which Rama kills Ravana) serves as a substitute for the performance of animal sacrifice.
For the most part the story of Rama has been presented and interpreted as a Hindu story told primarily in Hindu contexts. And there is some justification for this emphasis. Certainly it is within Hinduism that the Rims story has had its most elaborated and sophisticated tellings and has exercised its greatest popular appeal. This emphasis, however, tends to throw into the shadows the possibility, already raised in Ramanujan's essay, that the story of Rama is better understood as an Indian/Southeast Asian story that has been crystallized (to use his image) in the context of a variety of religious traditions including, but not limited to, Hinduism.
I propose here to consider the religious structure of the classical Rama stories belonging to the Hindu tradition, and the parallel but contrasting religious structure of the classical Rama stories that belong to the tradition of Theravada Buddhism. With this background established, I will go on to raise a fundamental question concerning the great tradition of Rama narratives that has been prominent in Thailand at least since the late eighteenth century. Is this so-called Ramakien (Glory of Rama) tradition essentially Hindu in character, as many scholars have presumed? Or is it—as one might expect given its sitz im leben in Thailand—essentially Buddhist? It is my hope that by exploring this question we will gain a better understanding not only of the relevant literary texts but of the correlated forms of dance, sculpture, and painting as well.
Although the Rama story is not, as such, a Hindu story, Hindu versions are very ancient. They have been a prominent element in Hindu religious life over the centuries and continue to play a prominent role in contemporary Hinduism. Moreover, certain dominant features in many Rama traditions— both in India and in Southeast Asia—can be clearly identified as Hindu.
Most of the literary versions of the classical Hindu Rama story are attributed to an author recognized as a religiously inspired sage or poet. In some cases the reputed author (for example, Valmiki) seems from our perspective more or less a mythic figure. In other cases the reputed author is a relatively identifiable historical personage (for example, Tulsidas). Either way, the author is considered to be a Hindu virtuoso possessing special religious insight and poetic inspiration.
For the most part, these Hindu crystallizations set the story of Rama in a primordial time situated at or near the beginning of the present eon when the gods are very much involved in human affairs and the character of the world as we know it is just being established. At a certain moment, the proper order in the cosmos and society is challenged by a countervailing force that threatens to disrupt the world with injustice and disharmony. In order to prevent this situation from getting out of hand, a prominent god (usually Visnu) becomes incarnate in the person of Rama, a prince of a northern kingdom usually identified with the city of Ayodhya in northeastern India. In his incarnation as Rama Visnu is surrounded by a host of companions and helpers, many of whom are themselves the embodiments or descendants of members of the Hindu pantheon—although the particular deities and the relationships involved vary significantly from one account to another. In some Hindu versions Rama and his companions are presented in a way that highlights Rama's divinity and thus evokes devotion directed toward him. In other versions Rama and his companions are depicted as semidivine exemplars who embody the virtues that Hindus are expected to cultivate. In still other versions a greater degree of moral ambiguity is evident.
In most classical Hindu accounts Rama is denied his rightful succession to the throne through the machinations of one of his father's wives, who seeks the throne for her own son. But the primary opponent of Rama and his illustrious companions—the figure around whom the forces of disorder are most fully marshalled—is Ravana, the ruler of the kingdom of Lanka in the south. Like most of the major characters in the story, Ravana is usually depicted as the embodiment, descendant, or assistant of one of the Hindu gods, generally one not in particularly good favor with the tellers of the tale. As for Ravana himself, he is a more or less demonic figure who acts in ways that generate disorder in the cosmos and turbulence in society. In some tellings of the tale Ravana is presented as a thoroughly evil character with no redeeming virtues. In others he is more a kind of flawed hero whose demise, though necessary and appropriate, is not devoid of truly tragic dimensions.
According to most classical Hindu versions, the battle between the forces of order and disorder, between Rama and his companions on the one hand, and Ravana and his allies on the other, is fully joined when Ravana becomes desirous of Rama's wife, Sita, and kidnaps her. But, after winning the initial round of his battle with Rims, Ravana is twice defeated—first by Sita, who, despite her position as a powerless captive, rebuffs his advances, and then by Rama, who invades Ravana's capital, overcomes his armies, and finally kills him in personal combat. Thus the forces of disorder and injustice that were threatening the cosmos and society are destroyed. With his mission accomplished, Rama returns to Ayodhya with Sita at his side and takes the throne that is rightfully his.
Like the Hindus, Theravada Buddhists have, over the centuries, crystallized their own classical versions of the Rama story, ones whose religious structure clearly establishes their Buddhist identity. The basic components of this Buddhist structure parallel the basic components of the Hindu pattern, but they differ in fundamental respects.
Within the Buddhist context there are two classical crystallizations of the Rama story that need to be considered. The first is the Dasaratha Jataka , a relatively well known text. Some scholars have argued that this text (which they date to the pre-Christian era) is actually the first crystallization of the Rama story that we possess; others contend that it was written after Valmiki's version. Either way—and my own view is that the evidence is not conclusive—there is general agreement that the Dasaratha Jataka is a very ancient Buddhist crystallization of the Rama story.
The second Buddhist-oriented Rama tradition is much more complex and in many respects much more interesting, though far less widely known and studied than the Dasaratha Jataka . Dating from medieval times, this Buddhist Rama tradition has had a widespread distribution through an area we might call greater Laos, from Yunan in the north through Laos and northeastern Thailand to the borders of Cambodia in the south. The most extensive text that we now possess is the Laotian Phra Lak/Phra Lam (the Laotian names for Laksmana and Rama) which has been published in a two-volume edited version that runs to more than nine hundred pages. In addition, there are a number of "sister texts" that are clearly a part of this same classical tradition.
Within Buddhist tradition, the author to whom the various literary crystallizations of the Rama story are attributed does not vary from text to text. In each instance the "author," in the sense of the first teller of the tale, is said to be the Buddha himself. The Dasaratha Jataka is included in a lengthy jataka commentary that presents itself as a collection of jataka stories (stories of events in the previous lives of the Buddha) that the Buddha preached during his stay at the Jetavana monastery. The classical Rama texts of the Laotian tradition are not included in any of the collections traditionally attributed to the founder. However, each of these independent texts quite explicitly presents itself as a sermon preached by the Buddha during the course of his ministry.
Like the classical Hindu versions, the various Buddhist crystallizations are situated in a special time that is clearly set apart from the present day. In both the Dasaratha Jataka and the Laotian tradition, this time is located in the distant past, when the Buddha was living one of his more eventful previous lives. The Laotian texts also make clear that these previous lives took place at or near the beginning of the present cosmic epoch, at a time when the gods were closely involved in human affairs and the conditions of our present existence were being established. Their account draws heavily on the classical Theravada cosmogony that appears in the Pali Tipitaka, most fully in the Aggañña Sutta. 
The Phra Lak/Phra Lain cosmogony begins with the descent of two brahma deities, a male and a female, from the heavens (where they had escaped the destruction of the old world) to the new earth that is taking shape out of the waters. Having been tempted into tasting the "savor of the material world," the two brahma deities lose their divine powers and are unable to return to the heavenly realm. Living now on earth, they found the city of Inthapatha on the banks of the Mekong River and establish a dynastic succession that divides into two lines. One line—which continues to rule in the original kingdom of Inthapatha—runs from the original divine couple to a great grandson named Ravana. The other line—which founds its own royal city further to the north on the site of the present Laotian capital of Vientienne—runs from the original divine couple to two other great grandsons named Phra Lak and Phra Lam.
In this cosmogonic account Indra, who is an especially important deity within the Theravada tradition, plays a very significant role. Specifically, he facilitates the rebirth processes that result in the birth of Ravana as Ravana and of Rama as Rama. Having been impressed with the intellectual erudition of a deformed child, Indra sees to it that the child's physical deformity is healed and that he is ultimately reborn as Ravana. Later, as Indra becomes aware of the threat to the proper order that Ravana's activities are posing, he sees to it that a bodhisatta (a future Buddha) is reborn as Rama.
As one might expect, virtually all the Buddhist crystallizations of the story identify Rama and his companions as the rebirth precursors of the Buddha and his family or faithful disciples. In the Dasaratha Jataka this is the only source for the sacrality of the major figures in the story, whereas in the Phra Lak/Phra Lain tradition the leading figures often simultaneously participate in the sacrality associated with divinities central to Buddhist cosmology. Even here, however, the primary emphasis is placed on the rebirth connection between Rama and his companions on the one hand and the Buddha and his companions on the other.
These two Theravada Buddhist traditions also interpret the exact identity of the disrupting forces that Rama must overcome rather differently. In the Dasaratha Jataka the enemy is not personified, and the "victory" is purely spiritual. In this distinctive crystallization of the Rama story, the enemy is the kind of desirous attachment that binds persons to this-worldly life; and the victory comes when the exiled Rama confronts the news of his father's untimely death with an appropriately Buddhist attitude of equanimity and an appropriately Buddhist commitment to compassionate activity. In the later Phra Lak/Phra Lam tradition, the enemy appears in his familiar guise as Ravana, and the narrative shares with the Hindu versions many key episodes of encounter and conflict. But in the Phra Lak/Phra Lam context, Ravana, like the companions of Rama, is closely associated with a figure who plays a role in the life of the Buddha. In some cases Ravana is identified as an earlier form of Mara, the personalized embodiment of desire and death whom the Buddha defeats again and again during the course of his final life as Gotama. In other cases he is identified as the rebirth precursor of Devadatta, the Buddha's angry and desire-driven cousin and archenemy who repeatedly challenges him but finally succumbs in the face of the Buddha's superior wisdom and compassion.
Finally, both tellings culminate with the triumphant return of Rama to his own country and his installation as the legitimate successor to his father. In religious terms, proper order is restored, and a ruler imbued with Buddhist virtues reclaims the throne. In the Dasaratha Jataka Rama returns to Banaras, where his father had been king, and establishes his wise and benevolent rule. In the Phra Lak/Phra Lam tradition Rama returns to and establishes his wise and benevolent rule in the Laotian city of his birth. In both instances, the basic theme is the same: a dynasty that embodies and supports Buddhist values has carried the day and is now firmly in charge.
Thus far, we have characterized two quite distinctive classical Rama traditions, one clearly Hindu and one clearly Buddhist. With that background in mind, we can now turn to our question concerning the Ramakien tradition established in Thailand in the late eighteenth century. Is it Hindu or Buddhist? Or is it a new kind of crystallization that combines elements of both?
Although modern Thai versions of the Rama story show definite affinities with South Indian, Javanese, and Khmer (Cambodian) versions, there is simply no basis for determining with any degree of precision when, from where, or in what form the story was introduced into the central Thai context. The fact that certain episodes of the Rama story have been geographically localized at sacred sites around the city of Lopburi suggests that the Rama story may have been prominent there during the late centuries of the first millennium C.E. , when Lopburi was the capital of a major Mon kingdom, and/or during the first centuries of the second millennium C.E. , when it was a major provincial center of the Khmer empire ruled from Angkor.
The fact that the most important ruler of the early Thai kingdom of Sukothai took the name Ramkemheng (Rama the Strong) indicates that by the late thirteenth century some form of the Rama story was well established in the area, and that it had already been taken up by the Thai. And it is certain that a classical version of the Rama story played a significant role in the religion and culture of the Thai kingdom that dominated central Thailand from the fourteenth to the late eighteenth centuries. It is not by chance that the capital of this kingdom was named Ayudhya (the Thai name for the city of Rama) and that several of the kings who ruled there took names that included the name of Rama. But the destruction and sacking of Ayudhya in the mid eighteenth century has made it impossible to reconstruct the pre-modern tradition in any detail.
When, in the late eighteenth century, a stable new dynasty was established with its capital at Bangkok, one of the prime concerns of King Rama I was to reconstruct the religious and cultural life of the country. One of the major components in that reconstructive effort was his own specifically ordered and personally supervised composition of a new crystallization of the Rama story called the Ramakien . This classic text was then supplemented by episodes written by King Rama II (reigned 1809-1824) and by King Rama VI (reigned 1925-1935).
Any reader of these Ramakien texts will be immediately impressed by the Hindu character of the narrative. From the outset the Hindu gods dominate the scene. In the background is Siva as the preeminent deity, the creator of the world, and the continuing presence under whose aegis the narrative unfolds. More in the foreground of the action is Visnu, who at Siva's behest becomes incarnate in the person of Rama in order to save the world from the threat of social and cosmic disorder. The Hindu gods continue to play a role throughout the narrative, and Hindu figures continue to dominate the action.
Conversely, the most crucial elements of the earlier Buddhist versions of the story are simply not present. There is no suggestion whatsoever that the Buddha was the original teller of the tale, and, although there is a clear cosmogonic dimension to the narrative, there are no indications that a distinctively Buddhist version of the cosmogony had any influence on the presentation. And—what is certainly most important—the story is not presented as an incident in a previous life of the Buddha.
But before we jump to the seemingly obvious conclusion that we are dealing with an unambiguously Hindu crystallization of the story, several additional factors need to be taken into account. First, the primary Ramakien text was produced by (and widely associated with) an "author" who was not only a Buddhist king but one especially noted for his support of Buddhism. Second, during the period when the principal Ramakien text was being composed, Thai Buddhists were actively engaged in encompassing and assimilating Hindu elements. This was the period, for example, when authoritative Buddhist texts were being written in which Siva and Visnu were explicitly included among the deities who populate the three worlds of the Buddhist cosmos. Third, since various hierarchical, brahmanical, and dualistic elements that characterize some Hindu versions of the story are not prominent in the Rarnakien , much of the narrative is quite compatible with Buddhist sensibilities. Fourth, a careful reading discerns distinctively Buddhist emphases in the text. For example, Indra plays a more prominent role than in most Hindu tellings, karmic explanations are more common, and Buddhist attitudes toward life are given greater play.
But the strongest argument against viewing the Ramakien as an unambiguously Hindu text (or perhaps even a Hindu text at all) comes from the epilogue attached to the original composition by King Rama I himself. "The writing of the Ramakien, " he asserts, "was done in accordance with a traditional tale. It is not of abiding importance; rather, it has been written to be used on celebrative occasions. Those who hear it and see it performed should not be deluded. Rather, they should be mindful of impermanence." The Thai word that Rama I uses to convey the notion of delusion is lailong —a direct translation of the Pali moha , a technical term that refers to one of the three preeminent Buddhist vices (delusion, anger, and greed); and the word that he uses when he urges his readers to be mindful of impermanence is anitchang —the Thai transliteration of the Pali technical term anicca (impermanence). Thus in his epilogue Rama I very explicitly highlights his own conviction that those who participate in the Ramakien tradition can and should approach the Ramakien story in a way consistent with Buddhist teachings and insight.
It is clear that both during and after the time of Rama I some participants in the Ramakien tradition were—in his terms—"deluded" by the story and "unmindful" concerning the reality of impermanence. During Rama I's own reign Ramakien performances that pitted dancers associated with Rama I (representing Rama) against those associated with his brother who held the position of "second king" (representing Ravana) occasionally led to pitched battles that resulted in the deaths of some of the participants. It is also true that many participants in the Ramakien tradition, especially in more recent times, have adopted a skeptical attitude toward the Hindu structure of the story, but on the basis of their secular, rather than Buddhist, orientation. However Rama I's notion that the Ramakien is a rendition of a traditional tale that can and should be approached with specifically Buddhist sensibilities has never been totally forgotten.
Like other classical versions of the Rama story, the Ramakien tradition has been expressed not only in literature and artistic performance but in sculpture and in painting as well. These visual representations of the tale have almost always existed in temple settings, and it is probable that most of them had, at one time or another, specific associations with cultic practice. Insofar as these practices are historically remote, the character of the relevant cult is impossible to reconstruct. In the case of the Ramakien tradition, however, we are dealing with a relatively recent cult established by Rama I, the same king who sponsored the primary Ramakien text. And, like that text, it remains a vital part of religious and cultural life in contemporary Thailand.
For our purposes the most important iconic expression of the Ramakien tradition is one intimately associated with the so-called Holy Emerald Jewel or Emerald Buddha that King Rama I brought to Bangkok from the Laotian capital of Vientienne, and with the closely related dynastic practices that he subsequently established when he became king and built his new capital at Bangkok. Although there had almost certainly been similar images and dynastic cults in the old central Thai capital of Ayudhya, Rama I bypassed any Ayudhyan precedents and drew on the heritage of another region, ultimately founding a tradition distinctive to the Bangkok kingdom and its Chakri rulers.
Evidence strongly suggests that the image of the Emerald Buddha and t he rituals associated with it in Vientienne were Buddhist transformations of a Saivite "Holy Jewel" and corresponding dynastic cult established in the ancient Khmer capital of Angkor in the early centuries of the second millennium C.E. Through a long and fascinating process, this originally Saivite tradition was appropriated and transformed by the Theravada Buddhist reformers who subsequently came to dominate the religious life of the area. Although the early phases of this process are hard to trace in any detail, it is certain that thoroughly Buddhized forms of the image and its cult were well established in the northern Thai kingdom of Lannathai by the late fifteenth century. They were transported to the Laotian capital of Luang Prabang in the middle of the sixteenth century and a few years later taken to the Laotian capital of Vientienne.
During this northern Thai-Laotian period, the image and the practices associated with it were closely affiliated with different Buddhist dynasties. There is strong evidence that the image itself served as the palladium of Buddhist kings in each of the three capitals mentioned above, and that the cult was a central element in the ritual structure that legitimated their rule. There is also strong evidence that the stories told about the image and the activities surrounding it involved a wide variety of Buddhist symbols that signified various aspects of royal authority and power. These include notions of the king as a cakkavatti , as an Indra, as a bodhisatta , and (though in proper Theravada fashion this always remained ambiguous) as a Buddha.
When Rama I installed the Emerald Buddha in his new royal temple in Bangkok, the image became the palladium of his dynasty and kingdom, the cultic activities associated with it were regularly performed, and all the earlier associations with Buddhist notions of royal power and authority were retained. But what is especially interesting for our purposes is that Rama I added an important component which, as far as I have been able to discover, had not previously been connected with the image. Along the galleries surrounding the central altar of the royal temple, Rama I commissioned the painting of a set of murals that depicted episodes from the Ramakien . When celebrations associated with the image of the Emerald Buddha were held, he saw to it that performances of episodes from the Ramakien story were included. In visual and ritual terms a clear message was being sent. The "Glory of Rama" had now been incorporated into the Buddhist ideal of royal power and authority manifested in the Emerald Buddha on the one hand and in the reigning dynasty on the other.
As in the literary and performance strand of the Ramakien tradition, so in the iconographic and ritual strand: the pattern established by King Rama I has persisted to the present day. The Emerald Buddha has continued to serve as the palladium of the kingdom; the Buddhist cult associated with the image has continued to legitimate the rule of the Chakri dynasty; and the iconic version of the Ramakien story has continued to play a central symbolic role. Thus, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the dynasty, the Ramakien murals painted on the walls of the gallery in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha were refurbished by King Rama III. On the one hundredth anniversary they were refurbished by King Rama V, and on the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary by King Rama VII. During the 1980s, to mark the two hundredth anniversary, they were refurbished once again, this time by the present monarch, King Rama IX.
When the literary, performative, iconic, and cultic aspects of the Ramakien tradition are all taken fully into account, it is necessary to conclude that this rendition of the Rama story—at least since its reformulation in the late eighteenth century—tilts more toward Buddhism than Hinduism. In fact, I would go still further and claim that the Ramakien crystallizations generated by King Rama I and his successors represent a third classical type of Buddhist-oriented Rama story that should be considered alongside the first type presented in the Dasaratha Jataka and the second type represented by the Phra Lak/Phra Lam tradition.
To be sure, the Ramakien versions of the Rama story do not exhibit the full-fledged Buddhist structure characteristic of earlier Buddhist tellings. Nowhere is the story attributed to the Buddha or presented as an account of events associated with one of his previous lives, nor does it occur in the kind of cosmogonic context that Buddhists traditionally affirm. However, it is a tradition which self-consciously sets the Rama story in explicitly Buddhist contexts, thereby giving it an explicitly Buddhist significance. In the literary and performative strand of the tradition, the Buddhist significance remains relatively muted and largely audience-dependent. In the iconic and cultic strand, the vision of Rama as a royal hero who embodies Buddhist values is vividly portrayed for all to see. Coexisting and subtly interacting, these two strands of the Ramakien tradition have, over the past two centuries, maintained the story of Rama as an integral, Buddhist-oriented component in Thai religion, culture, and politics.
I would like to thank Mani Reynolds for her assistance in locating and interpreting Thai texts and materials. Charles Hallisey has, as always, proved a superb critic, offering numerous corrections and suggestions. All have been appreciated, and most have been incorporated into the text.
- In this connection, I might note that this paper was originally written as theinaugural lecture for a three-day Brown Symposium held at Southwestern University (Georgetown, Texas) in October 1988. The symposium was devoted to the Thai version of the Rama story and was supplemented by the performance of major segments of the story by a dance troupe from Thailand.
- For a description of these kae bon ("releasing from the promise") rituals, see Chantat Tongchuay, Ramakien kap Wanakam Thongton Pak Tai (research paper no. 8, Institute for the Dissemination of Scientific Knowledge, Sinakharintharavirot University, Songkhla, Thailand, 1979; in Thai), 27-31.
- The tendency unduly to privilege Hindu versions in general, and certain Hindu versions in particular, is evidenced by the common practice of referring to the various tellings of the Rama story by the essentially Hindu term Ramayana . The practical advantages of following this convention are obvious, but the fact that it implicitly privileges some versions over others should not be ignored.
- I do not wish to imply here any radical dichotomy between classical and popular traditions. I use the term classical simply to signal the fact that the tellings of the Rama story that I will consider in this paper are fully developed Rama traditions that have been continuously transmitted over the course of many generations. Although these traditions are associated with particular literary texts, they have also been expressed in a variety of other media including, especially, dance and iconography.
- A great amount of work has been done comparing various versions of the Rama story. Generally, however, the emphasis has been on literary elements of style and narrative detail rather than on differences in religious structure. So far as I am aware, the only wide-ranging attempt to compare Hindu and Buddhist versions that shows any significant concern for their religious structure is Harry Buck's now seriously dated essay, "The Figure of Rama in Asian Cultures," Asian Profile 1, no. 1 (August 1973): 133-58.
- In dance performances and iconographic representations that lack introductory narratives to set the scene, the sense that the story is occurring in a primordial time is often evoked through the use or representation of masks charged with sacral significance.
- In the remainder of this article, unless otherwise specified "Buddhism" refers to the Theravada tradition. The Rama story has, of course, had significant crystallizations in other Buddhist environments, and the Buddhist structure delineated below is to a considerable extent discernible in many of those other contexts as well. However, I have chosen to focus the discussion on Theravada materials. So far as I am aware, the full range of classical crystallizations of the Rama story within the Theravada tradition has never been seriously treated by a Theravada scholar. In part, this serious lacuna in Theravada scholarship can be traced to some very influential Buddhologists, who have concluded from the seeming paucity of classical Rama traditions in Sri Lanka that these traditions do not play a significant role in Theravada culture as a whole. For an example of this kind of over-generalization from the Sinhalese situation, see Richard Gombrich, "The Vessantara Jataka, the Ramayana and the Dasaratha Jataka" in Journal of the American Oriental Society 105, no. 3 (July-September 1985), 497-37. For a very brief but much more accurate assessment of the presence and role of the Rama story, both in Sri Lanka and in the Theravada countries of Southeast Asia, see Heinz Bechert, ''On the Popular Religion of the Sinhalese" in Buddhism in C e ylon and Studies on Religious Syncretism in Buddhist Countries , ed. Heinz Bechert (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1978), 230-31.
- In the article cited in note 7, Richard Gombrich argues that the Dasaratha Jataka is a self-conscious "parody" of the Hindu Ramayana . In my judgment his argument, which seriously underplays some of the most distinctive characteristics of the Dasaratha Jataka that I will discuss, is not convincing.
- The Phra Lak Phra Lam or the Phra Lam Sadok, 2 vols. (New Delhi: Indian Council for Cultural Relations, 1973). For a discussion of this text, which was found in the Laotian capital of Vientienne, see Vo Thu Tinh, Phra Lak/Phra Lam: Version Lao du Ramayana indien et les fresques murales du Vat Wat Oup Moung, Vientienne, vol. 1 of Littérature Lao (Vientienne: Vithanga, 1972).
- Among the "sister texts" that have thus far been identified, there is a north Laotian version known as the P'ommachak (see the reference in Vo Thu Tinh, Phra Lak/Phra Lam ) and a fascinating variant called Gvay Dvorahbi (see Sachchidanand Sahai, The Ramayana in Laos: A Study in the Gvay Dvorahbi [Delhi: B. R. Publishing, 1976]). This latter text, based on the Dundubhi episode in the Rama story, involves the killing of a buffalo, which suggests that this telling of the tale may have served as a correlate or substitute for the buffalo sacrifices that have, in the past, been ubiquitous in Laos. At this point, however, this remains a topic for further research.
- For a Southeast Asian rendition of Theravada cosmology and correlated cosmogony based directly on the Pali Tipitaka (Skt. Tripitaka) and early Pall commentaries, see chapter 10 of Frank E. Reynolds and Mani B. Reynolds, Three Worlds According to King Ruang, University of California Buddhist Research Series no. 4 (Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press, 1982).
- When details vary from text to text, I follow the Vientienne version.
- Given that Siva is the preeminent god in the literary Ramakien tradition that was associated with the kings of Thailand in the Bangkok period, and probably in the earlier Ayudhya period as well, it is interesting to note the way he is portrayed in the Laotian tellings of the story. In the Vientienne text, Siva (Lao: Aysouane) is a second name that Indra gives to a Buddhist-type brahma deity, the only son of the original pair of brahms deities who came down to earth and established the city of Inthapatha. In the P'ommachak account from northern Laos, Siva is presented as a relatively minor deity who once became inebriated and as a result fell from heaven to earth. The fallen Siva becomes an ally of Ravana's father and an enemy of Indra and Dasaratha, the father of Rama. According to the story, a battle is fought and Siva and Ravana are defeated. (The P'ommachak version is summarized in Vo Thu Tinh, Phra Lak/Phra Lam , 87.) Though corroborating evidence is not available, it is very tempting to see in these accounts a political polemic in which the Thai monarchs are being "situated" within the Laotian world.
- The one exception to this that I know of is the Laotian Gvay Dvorahbi text mentioned in note 10. In this text the story is presented as a sermon of the Buddha, but it does not (at least explicitly) take the form of a jataka story.
- Within the broader Buddhist context an interesting variant was discovered by H. W. Bailey, which he discussed in his "The Rama Story in Khotanese," Journal of the American Oriental Society 59 (1939): 460-68. In this Khotanese version, Laksmana rather than Rama plays the leading role: the Gotama Buddha who tells the story identifies Laksmana as himself in a previous life, while Rama is identified as one who will be reborn as Metteya (Skt. Maitreya), the Buddha of the future who will appear at the end of the present age. Given the importance of non-Theravada, Sanskrit traditions in the history of the greater Laos area, it is perhaps interesting to note the primacy seemingly given to Laksmana in the naming (though not in the content) of the Phra Lak/Phra Lain tradition.
- The Phra Lak/Phra Lain narratives exhibit the general Buddhist tendency not to radicalize the distinction between good and evil. As in some (though by no means all) of the Hindu versions, Ravana is presented as a figure who evokes a considerable amount of admiration and sympathy.
- Given that the Vientienne version of the Phra Lak/Phra Lain account identifies Rama and Ravana as the rebirth precursors of the Buddha and Devadatta, it is not surprising that Rama and Ravana are (like the Buddha and Devadatta) depicted as cousins. In this same text the deformed child who was the rebirth precursor of Ravana demonstrates unmatched religious erudition by solving a set of riddles presented to him by Indra. Could it be that the text intends to highlight, in the figure of Ravana, the insufficiency of such religious erudition in the absence of proper attitudes and behavior? Certainly this combination of religious virtuosity with improper attitudes and behavior would make the parallel between Ravana and Devadatta very close indeed: according to the Buddhist tradition, Devadatta was an extremely erudite religious virtuoso who nonetheless harbored a degree of jealousy and anger that caused him to seek the Buddha's death.
- Up to this point the most detailed research has focused on the literary and episodic connections between the modern Ramakien (which presumably preserves the characteristics of earlier Thai versions) and Tamil traditions. See, for example, S. Singaravelu, "A Comparative Study of the Sanskrit, Tamil, Thai and Malay Versions of the Story of Rama ," Journal of the Siam Society 56, pt. 2 (July 1968): 137-85; "The Rama Story in the Thai Cultural Tradition," Journal of the Siam Society 70, pts. 1 and 2 (July 1982): 215-25 (repr. in Asian Folklore Studies 44, no. 2 : 269-79); and "The Episode of Maiyarab in the Thai Ramakien and Its Possible Relation to Tamil Folklore," Indologica Taurinensia 13 (1985-86): 297-312.
- For a discussion of the available evidence, see P. Schweisguth, Etude sur la littérature siamois (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1951).
- Although the founder and early kings of the Chakri dynasty that founded the present Bangkok kingdom associated themselves closely with the figure of Rama, the now extremely common practice of designating them and their successors as Rama I, Rama II, and so on was not established until the time of Rama VI.
- See, for example, Traiphum lok winitchai, chamlong chak chabap luang (Bangkok, 1913), which describes the Buddhist cosmos, including the various heavenly realms and their occupants.
- The distinctively Buddhist elements are highlighted by Srisurang Poolthupya and Sumalaya Bangloy in Phrutikam Kong Tua Nai Rueng Ramakien Thai Prieb Tieb Kab Tua Lakhon Nai Mahakap Ramayana " (Research Document no. 12, Institute for Thai Studies, Thammasat University, Bangkok, 1981); and by Sathian Koset [Phaya Anuman Rajadhon], Uppakon Ramakien (Bangkok: Bannakan Press, 1972).
- King Rama I, Ramakien , 2 vols. (Bangkok: Sinlapa Bannakhan, 1967), 1068. The rationalistic, skeptical attitude expressed toward Hindu mythology in this passage provides important confirmation of David Wyatt's thesis that the modernist orientation evident in the Buddhist reform movement led by Rama IV in the middle decades of the nineteenth century was prefigured in the workings and actions of Rama I. See Wyatt, "The 'Subtle Revolution' of King Rama I of Siam," in Moral Order and the Question of Change: Essays on Southeast Asian Thought , ed. David Wyatt and Alexander Woodside (Monograph series no. 24, Yale University Southeast Asia Studies, New Haven, 1982), 9-52.
- Whether or not Rama I was aware of earlier Buddhist tellings of the Rama story, he was in fact following a Buddhist tradition in using an epilogue to indicate the significance of the story he had told. In the Dasaratha Jataka and the Phra Lak/Phra Lam tellings of the tale, the crucial point that most explicitly reveals the Buddhist significance of the story (namely Rama's identity as a rebirth precursor of the Buddha and the identities of the other characters as rebirth precursors of the Buddha's "supporting cast") is always revealed in an epilogue.
- See Mattani Rutnin, "The Modernization of Thai Dance-Drama, with Special Reference to the Reign of King Chulalongkorn" (Doctoral diss., School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1978), 1:14-15.
- This point was strongly confirmed by the Ramakien musicians and dancers who performed at the Brown Symposium at which the original version of this paper was presented.
- Another important iconic telling of the Ramakien story is the set of sculptures now located in Wat Jetupom in Bangkok. Although this set of sculptures is of great artistic interest, it has not—in recent years at least—had a significant cultic function.
- For an extended account of this process, see my essay "The Holy Emerald Jewel" in Religion and the Legitimation of Power in Thailand, Laos and Burma , ed. Bardwell Smith (Chambersburg, Penn.: Anima Books, 1978), 175-93.
- Northern Thai texts contain accounts of processions of the Emerald Buddha image in which unspecified jatakas were chanted, a practice that clearly highlights the association of the image with bodhisatta -hood and Buddhahood. It is theoretically possible that a Rama Jataka was among those jatakas , but I am not aware of any evidence to support this conjecture.
- Unlike his two predecessors and most of his successors, Rama III followed a school of opinion that considered literary and performance renditions of the Rama story too frivolous to deserve the attention of a serious Buddhist. However, his convictions did not inhibit his interest in refurbishing the iconic presentation of the story that was an integral component of the cult supporting the legitimacy of his dynasty.
- The setting of the Ramakien murals on the walls of the galleries around the central altar on which the Emerald Buddha is installed, especially when taken in conjunction with the fact that the chanting of jatakas is a common practice in the cult, is clearly intended to hint that Rama might be a rebirth precursor of the Buddha. There is, however, no evidence that this intimation has ever been explicitly formulated.
by: Frank E. Reynolds
Sumber: UC Press E-Books Collection, University of California Press.
Two Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation
When we enter the world of Jains tellings, the Rama story no longer carries Hindu values. Indeed the Jaina texts express the feeling that the Hindus, especially the Brahmins, have maligned Ravana, made him into a villain. Here is a set of questions that a Jaina text begins by asking: "How can monkeys vanquish the powerful raksasa warriors like Ravana? How can noble men and Jaina worthies like Ravana eat flesh and drink blood? How can Kumbhakarna sleep through six months of the year, and never wake up even though boiling oil was poured into his cars, elephants were made to trample over him, and war trumpets and conches blow around him? They also say that Ravana captured Indra and dragged him handcuffed into Lanka. Who can do that to Indra? All this looks a bit fantastic and extreme. They are lies and contrary to reason." With these questions in mind King Srenika goes to sage Gautama to have him tell the true story and clear his doubts. Gautama says to him, "I'll tell you what Jaina wise men say. Ravana is not a demon, he is not a cannibal and a flesh eater. Wrong-thinking poetasters and fools tell these lies." He then begins to tell his own version of the story. Obviously, the Jaina Ramayana of Vimalasuri, called Paumacariya (Prakrit for the Sanskrit Padmacarita ), knows its Valmiki and proceeds to correct its errors and Hindu extravagances. Like other Jains puranas , this too is a pratipurana , an anti- or counter-purana . The prefix prati , meaning "anti-" or "counter-," is a favorite Jaina affix.
Vimalasuri the Jains opens the story not with Rama's genealogy and greatness, but with Ravana's. Ravana is one of the sixty-three leaders or salakapurusas of the Jaina tradition. He is noble, learned, earns all his magical powers and weapons through austerities (tapas ), and is a devotee of Jaina masters. To please one of them, he even takes a vow that he will not touch any unwilling woman. In one memorable incident, he lays siege to an impregnable fort. The queen of that kingdom is in love with him and sends him her messenger; he uses her knowledge of the fort to breach it and defeat the king. But, as soon as he conquers it, he returns the kingdom to the king and advises the queen to return to her husband. Later, he is shaken to his roots when he hears from soothsayers that he will meet his end through a woman, Sita. It is such a Ravana who falls in love with Sita's beauty, abducts her, tries to win her favors in vain, watches himself fall, and finally dies on the battlefield. In these tellings, he is a great man undone by a passion that he has vowed against but that he cannot resist. In another tradition of the Jaina Ramayanas , Sita is his daughter, although he does not know it: the dice of tragedy are loaded against him further by this oedipal situation. I shall say more about Sita's birth in the next section.
In fact, to our modern eyes, this Ravana is a tragic figure; we are moved to admiration and pity for Ravana when the Jainas tell the story. I should mention one more motif: according to the Jaina way of thinking, a pair of antagonists, Vasudeva and Prativasudeva—a hero and an antihero, almost like self and Other—are destined to fight in life after life. Laksmana and Ravana are the eighth incarnations of this pair. They are born in age after age, meet each other in battle after many vicissitudes, and in every encounter Vasudeva inevitably kills his counterpart, his prati . Ravana learns at the end that Laksmana is such a Vasudeva come to take his life. Still, overcoming his despair after a last unsuccessful attempt at peace, he faces his destined enemy in battle with his most powerful magic weapons. When finally he hurls his discus (cakra ), it doesn't work for him. Recognizing Laksmana as a Vasudeva, it does not behead him but gives itself over to his hand. Thus Laksmana slays Ravana with his own cherished weapon.
Here Rama does not even kill Ravana, as he does in the Hindu Ramayanas . For Rama is an evolved Jaina soul who has conquered his passions; this is his last birth, so he is loath to kill anything. It is left to Laksmana to kill enemies, and according to inexorable Jaina logic it is Laksmana who goes to hell while Rama finds release (kaivalya ).
One hardly need add that the Paumacariya is filled with references to Jaina places of pilgrimage, stories about Jaina monks, and Jaina homilies and legends. Furthermore, since the Jainas consider themselves rationalists—unlike the Hindus, who, according to them, are given to exorbitant and often bloodthirsty fancies and rituals—they systematically avoid episodes involving miraculous births (Rama and his brothers are born in the normal way), blood sacrifices, and the like. They even rationalize the conception of Ravana as the Ten-headed Demon. When he was born, his mother was given a necklace of nine gems, which she put around his neck. She saw his face reflected in them ninefold and so called him Dasamukha, or the Ten-faced One. The monkeys too are not monkeys but a clan of celestials (vidyadharas ) actually related to Ravana and his family through their great grandfathers. They have monkeys as emblems on their flags: hence the name Vanaras or "monkeys."