Participants & Abstracts

Jennifer ClareAfter Kampaṉ: The Rāma Story in 16th-century Tamil Sources

Tamil Vaiṣṇava literary culture witnessed a shift in the sixteenth century, during which time new genres and literary techniques previously associated with Śaiva literature were adopted by Vaiṣṇava poets. This paper looks at the role of the Rāma story in this development in Tamil Vaiṣṇava literature, in particular the legacy of the influential twelfth-century Irāmāvatāram by Kampaṉ.

Pika GhoshUnrolling an Epic: A Rāmāyaṇa Scroll from Nineteenth-Century Bengal

A significant part of the enticement of scrolls lies in the anticipatory pleasure of experiencing the sequential unfolding of images and narratives in community entertainment contexts. Scrolls also invite touch, and can become prosthetic extensions of performers who skillfully manipulate temporal and image sequences, so that a single object can tell many versions of a tale. Patas, narrative hand-scrolls painted by the Bengali painter-minstrel communities, offer insights into the performative dimensions of experiencing the Rāmāyaṇa as visual aids for such multi-media experiences. This paper imagines such use of the distinctive vernacular narration of The Victoria and Albert Museum’s spectacular nineteenth-century Rāmāyaṇa Pata, now unrolled for display in the Asian Art Museum’s exhibition, The Rama Epic. Episodes visualized within framed registers would have accompanied sung verses as props in a performance. It interprets the V&A scroll as a way of living with the Rāmāyaṇa in Bengal.

Robert P. GoldmanWhat a Long, Strange Trip: Rāvaṇa’s Intercontinental and Interplanetary Voyages in the Prakṣipta Passages of the Uttarakāṇḍa of Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa

With the exception of two well-known and controversial episodes, the Uttarakāṇḍa of the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa has been largely eclipsed by the epic’s six preceding books. It is thus not very familiar to even Indian audiences of the poem and has been heavily critiqued by scholars and devotees alike as late, spurious, disorganized and generally worthy of excision from the epic text.

Sally and I have written at length on the receptive history and our original reading of the Uttarakāṇḍa in the introduction to our translation. In this talk, however, I will delve still deeper into what I might term oxymoronically the genuinely spurious portions of some version of the so-called Vulgate text of the kāṇḍa, passages that are generally regarded explicitly as prakṣipta or interpolated.

Some of these passages deal with rather odd judgments issued by Rāma in his role as king and chief magistrate of his legendary utopian realm, the so-called Rāmarājya. Others, however, extend the kāṇḍa’s lively and extensive accounts of Rāvaṇa’s rampage of violence, conquest and sexual assault throughout the earth, the underworld and the heavens. The prakṣipta passages, however, I will argue, provide a basis for the emerging medieval discourse on bhakti or religious devotion, particularly in it’s perhaps uniquely Vaiṣṇava form of dveṣabhaki or devotion to God through hatred or enmity.

Luis González-ReimannThe Epics and Traditional History: Their Placement in the Yugas

In the early centuries of the Common Era, the theory of the yugas became the dominant mythic-historical framework for Hindu narratives of the past. The Sanskrit Epics were incorporated into that framework, albeit with very different degrees of importance. This paper will look at the role both Epics played within this arrangement, and the correlation between the events described in them and their assigned yugas.

Philip LutgendorfDiving Into the Lake: On the Necessity, Joy, and Anxiety of (Re)Translating Tulsidas’ Rāmcaritmānas

The epic retelling of the Rāmāyaṇa composed in ca. 1574 AD by the poet Tulsidas, in the dialect of Hindi known as Avadhi, has long been considered one of the most sacred and beloved texts of the North Indian Hindu tradition. It has also, through nine complete English renderings, become one of the most translated works of pre-modern Indian vernacular literature. In this presentation, I will first briefly introduce the epic and some of its notable features as a work in the larger “Ramayana tradition.” I will then reflect on some of the difficulties that it presents for the translator into English, discuss why I am offering a new translation at this time, and share some examples of my approach

Vasudha ParamasivanInhabiting the Spaces of the Rāmāyaṇa: Community and Conflict

The spaces through which the Rām kathā moves constitute a network of important pilgrimage sites that are part of the larger inter-connected “sacred geography” of the Indian subcontinent. These spaces, of course, were never static, their significance constituted in complex ways over time. My paper will consider how sacred sites such as Mithila, Chitrakut and Ayodhya were “rediscovered” and “reclaimed” in the eighteenth century by ascetics of the Rāmānandī sampradāy, the largest devotional community centered on the worship of Ram. In particular, I will discuss the memory of arrival in Ayodhya as contained in an important Rāmānandī hagiographical work the Śrī Mahārāj-caritra in order to highlight the nature of community formation and religious conflict within North Indian Bhakti traditions

Sohini PillaiVamp or Victim? Representations of Śūrpaṇakhā in Contemporary India

Since the epic’s conception, various communities throughout South Asia have used the characters of the Rāmāyaṇa tradition to negotiate positions of political power and social status. Premodern Hindu kings have compared themselves to Rāma, members of the Nishada tribal community have aligned themselves with the boatman Guha, and Tamil nationalist politicians have presented themselves as the descendants of Rāvaṇa–– the great king of a glorious Dravidian civilization who was mercilessly slaughtered by the Brahmin-loving, Aryan invader Rāma. But recently, one of the epic’s more neglected characters — the rākṣasī Śūrpaṇakhā — has emerged as a figure more relevant for our time. As Kathleen Erndl, Karline McLain and Heidi Pauwels have all shown, many popular and hegemonic Rāmāyaṇa tellings (including those by Vālmīki, Kampaṉ, Tulsīdās, Ramanand Sagar, and the Amar Chitra Katha comic books) present Śūrpaṇakhā as the dangerous, licentious “Other” woman. In this paper, through an examination of recent Rāmāyaṇas from the realms of film, television and performance, I argue that a new, highly sympathetic representation of Śūrpaṇakhā as a victim of sexual violence has emerged in modern India. This new Śūrpaṇakhā seems to be a reflection of changing perceptions towards rape and sexual violence in contemporary India

Sally J. Sutherland GoldmanTransgressive Narratives: Sexual Aggression and the Uttarakāṇḍa

The Uttarakāṇḍa is commonly understood to be a late or spurious book consisting of an eclectic collection of “virtually independent episodes.”[1] Thus the kāṇḍa has suffered neglect on the part of many scholars. Moreover, the vast majority of scholarship of the kāṇḍa has focused on specific references that support larger examinations of comparative dating, geographic and ethnic identifications, language, episodes, and the like[2]; examinations and comparisons of specific sections or individual episodes[3]; or examinations of the structural relationship of the kāṇḍa to the Bālakāṇḍa.[4] As a result, there has been virtually no scholarship devoted exclusively to analyzing the kāṇḍa as a discrete literary work entity or as an integral part of the larger epic.[5]

A close reading of the Uttarakāṇḍa, however, demonstrates that its author has composed a carefully and logically structured work, one that is haunted by themes of sexual transgression. Not only is the first half of the kāṇḍa occupied with the history and genealogy of Rāvaṇa, who is no less than the sexual aggressor par excellence, but its latter half tells of Rāma’s seemingly hart-wrenching decision to banish Sītā based on rumors of her own supposed infidelity. Similar themes are reflected in a number of the kāṇḍa’s sub-stories—both those that are understood to be part of the main narrative and those that belong to the so-called ‘purāṇic’ narratives— and highlight sexual aggression against women. This paper will examine a specific and quite unusual subset of such narratives, those that deal with explicit rape, with an eye toward further understanding why here, uniquely in this kāṇḍa, such stories appear, and well as what these narratives tell us of the narrative integrity of the kāṇḍa and its epic.

[1] See, for example, Brockington 1998: 381.

[2] See, for example, Brockington 1998: 345–73, 373–77, 377–97.

[3] See Bulcke 1960; Verkerdi 1964; Antoine 1975; Sutherland (Goldman) 1999.

[4] S. Goldman 2004.

[5] Antoine 1975; Chatterjee 1972–73.