SAPTHAGIRI - December 2002
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FOLK RAMAYANAS IN TELUGU AND KANNADA

Dr. T. Gopalakrishna Rao, M.A., M.Ed., Ph.D.,  Nellore

Valmiki is a rsi-cum-poet par excellence. His Ramayana as 'Itihasa' is just an extension and a supplement to Veda Vedaisca Sammitam and Vedopabrahmanam in Valmiki's own words. As a Kavya it prescribed the format in form and content, whose influence no later poet would escape from. 

The Ramayana is a piece of deathless literature. It is a saga of undying inspiration. Rama, Sita and other characters in the story are not legendary figures and literary creations to the Indian mind, but are vital and living influences. The child in the cradle in Indian homes is and has always been and will ever be fed on the exploits of Rama by the lullaby singing mother.

The Ramayana author has knowingly pointed out that as long as the hills stand on earth and the rivers flow, so long will the story of Rama be prevalent in the world. His prophecy has proved verily true. Even as, in the words of Swami Vivekananda, the Indian nation can be killed, the Ramayana's all time currency is an assured fact. 

The Ramayana says that Valmiki was a contemporary of Rama and the entire drama of the story was enacted before his eyes. However, there is evidence to show that the Rama story existed even earlier. In the words of C. Rajagopalachari, one of the foremost interpreters of the Ramayana: 

The traditional orthodox view is that Valmiki wrote the Ramayana during the life-time of Ramachandra. Judging from normal experience, however, it would appear that the story of Rama had been in existence, though not as a written work, long before Valmiki wrote his epic. It looks as though Valmiki gave form to a story that has been handed down from generation to generation. 

In recent times there has been a world-wide spurt in the interest of scholars regarding the Ramayana and its culture. Much work has been undertaken. Ramayana and its culture are found to have spread to almost all the South-East Asian countries. Ramayanas in different languages of these countries are exposed to study, comparison and collection by scholars. Interest in Ramayana culture is, of course, natural and co-eval with the world-wide interest. A lot of material has now become available for study by Indian scholars, both the traditional ones as well as the folk-lorists. 

The spread of Ramayana and its culture does not seem to be confined to the Asian countries alone. It seems to have spread to South America too! A book of history of sakta literature mentions that in some part of Brazil people observe a harvest festival called 'RAMA- SITAO' (Capital letters mine). The meaning of the name in the local language is not known. It is presumed that Ram and Sita refer to Rama and Sita of Ramayana fame. It is mentioned only as a point of interest to the students of folk-lore.

In the present day when the need for 'lone world' or 'integrated world concept is more', the widespread Ramayana story and its extensive culture in all parts of the world deserves careful, study for delineating the evolution of human society and its socio-culture patterns. Of course help of disciplines like archeology, anthropology, ethnology and sociology is necessary. On a smaller scale such a study is very relevant so far as India is concerned. In the context of national integration and the developing nature of our country comparative study of the regional versions of Ramayana in different languages and its culture gets accentuated. 

Also it is gratifying to note that atleast some academic institutions offer folk-literature as a subject and academicians are be-stirred in this regard. Many non academic scholars are also engaged in the collection and study of folk-literature. The Ramayana has been a source of inspiration to hundreds of folk and sophisticated poets in all the regions of India. Its influence on Indians is so immense that the Ramayana culture is fed along with milk and butter to the child in the cradle. There is no Indian who is not familiar with some version or other of the Ramayana. 

On uttering the word, Ramayana it is Valmiki who appears before the mind of a scholar. But, one should be aware of the proportion of the Ramayana Culture which travelled and influenced even the literatures of other countries. The folk stream of Ramayana has many things in common different from Valmiki Ramayana and other sophisticated versions. A study of folk Ramayanas belonging to different regions will be of great help to understand the vital part of culture that is more realistic and reflecting the folk mind. 

The Ramayana story is not restricted to folk narrative poems. The story in pieces or in suggestive form is also found in the form of lullabies, cradle songs, kolata songs, festive songs, proverbs, riddles, names of persons and places and scores of idioms and sayings. All these make the Ramayana a cultural entity, inseparable from society. 

There are hundreds of versions of Ramayana in India and abroad. Even a brief survey of different versions proves the fact that there is an underlying current of primitive Ramayana culture which should have originated even prior to Valmiki Ramayana. This can be further supported by a study of different Ramayanas in Telugu and Kannada. A detailed study of closely related cultures represented by the Ramayana literature helps us to know the folk poets of these two language - speaking regions. There are similarities in some episodes like the birth of Sita, pre-marital love between Rama and Sita, the pathetic state of Urmila, Rama ordering Lakshmana to kill Sita etc. The story in some of the folk Ramayanas in Kannada appears to be more primitive having a number of basic folk motifs. Sita marrying the bow and arrow of Rama, depiction of Rama and Lakshmana as hunters, Ravana giving birth to Sita, Ravana's life being kept in a bird are some such instances attracting our attention. 

As far as the characterisation is concerned, there is no basic difference between the Rama and Sita of Valmiki and the Rama and Sita of Telugu folk Ramayanas. Of course the characters in the folk Ramayanas are more realistic than idealistic, being depicted as having joy, grief, anger and patience as any other common man and woman of our folk society. It is more so in the case of the folk Ramayanas in Kannada. Especially in 'Janapada Ramayana' (Ra.Gau. and others 1973) and 'Sampurna Ramayana' of Tamburi tradition (Ra, Gau. and others, 1973: 142-258) -Rama Lakshmana, Sita and many other characters act, speak and behave like any ordinary human being. They speak, weep and abuse like any other member of the folk whom they represent in the folk Ramayanas. 

Apart from the story and the characterisation, the soio-cultural study of the folk Ramayanas yields important results. As the Ramayana has entered every strata of Indian culture, it forms a medium for expressing different aspects of our culture. Through the study of society and culture as reflected in the folk Ramayanas of Telugu and Kannada, we can make out the common elements. There are beliefs, customs, rituals, stages of dress and varieties of ornaments, food habits, customs of marriage, family, kinship and many other items of culture common to the people of Andhra and Karnataka. A comparative study of the folk Ramayanas add to the already proved close relationship between these two cultures. 

Let us survey the deviations. The folk tradition regarding the division of Payasa after 'Putrakamesti' differs from Valmiki's version. According to Valmiki, Dasaratha gave half the Payasa first to Kausalya, gave half of the remaining half to Sumitra (1/4) and again half of the remaining 1/4 to Kaikeyi (1/8) and gave the remaining 1/8 again to Sumitra. This is in accordance with the esoteric needs of representation. The folk tradition has simplified the basis of division by saying that the payasa was first shared by Kausalya and Kaikeyi half and half and then each contributed half of her share (ie. 1/4 each) to Sumitra. Similar is the simplification when the folk-lore represents the death of both Subahu and Marica. This could have given rise to a further folk deviation that Ravana himself assumed the form of golden deer as in the case of Sampurna Ramayana in Kannada. 

The episode of Ahalya's stone being turned into a woman is complicated by the fact that Padma Purana, Ananda Ramayana and Narasimha Purana corroborate the folk version. It is easy to connect it with the folk belief in magic or miracle. Unless the folk versions are conclusively proved to be anterior to the written corroborative materials of Padma etc. it is difficult to decide. There is room for arguing that the folk versions have adopted it from the Purana and so on.

Regarding the birth of Sita, it is clear from the name of the harvest festival' Ram-Sitao' observed in far off Brazil that the story is connected to a period of early agricultural state of civilization. Valmiki's stylised Ramayana says that Janaka found her in a furrow when he was tilling the land for purposes of a Vedic Sacrifice. The folk motif of a child being born in a lotus mentioned can not be taken seriously. It is an-off-shoot of the Shadadhara Vidya.  The various versions ( 1) that Sita was the daughter of Ravana (2) Daughter of Mandodari etc. can be explained as pertaining to the Valmiki's stylised version of Shadadhara Vidya. 

Pre-marital love between Rama and Sita as a taboo described in folk versions is on a sound basis. 

In the story of Ayodhya Kanda, it is probable the boons of Kaikeyi were given at the time of her marriage. Sri Rama's exile for 14 years has a symbolic connection with the fourteen petalled cakra. The version of twelve years given by Sampurna Ramayana in Kannada could be on the analogy of Mahabharata. Again the version of Sita's marriage taking place at the time of Rama's exile and the appearance of Madivala Macanna as portrayed by the same Kannada folk Ramayana is a cler case of confusion and interpolation as Madivala Macanna who is a devotee of Sita finds a place in Basava Purana in Telugu. The antiquity of the folk poems is doubtful. 

In Aranya Kanda the episode of Surpanakha and her son Cakra Bhupala is again a case of an off-shoot from the Shadadhara Vidya. Surpanakha is evil lust and a polar point of Ananga Madanatura, a deity pertaining to that cakra. The folk-motif of Lakshmana drawing the seven lines and asking Sita nor to cross them is attractive at first sight. In the Sri cakra there are the three outer circles, the first circle passes through the nabhi (navel), the second through the kati (waist) and the third through the point of Mooladhara. Manipura cakra is said to be situated at a place behind nabhi (navel). Hence the origin of the element of drawing one or more lines. In slaying Marica folk versions maintain that Rama released agneyastra, while Valmiki speaks of Brahmastra. Agneyastra is more in tune with the nature of the cakra. Valmiki could have changed it with a higher motive. In the abduction of Sita, folk versions maintain that Ravana lifted her up on a chunk of earth without touching her. This is in consonance with the fact that the Manipura cakra rules the mamsa dhatu (the vital element of blood). What is mentioned here as a chunk of earth is nothing more than a spot of flesh. 

In Kishkindha Kanda, Vali, Sugriva, Hanuman, Tara etc., represent the Simianthropous society. Tripura Sundari is represented by three bindus, one at the top representing the Sun, two below it representing Chandra and Agni, Hari and Hara. Sugriva's connection with the Sun God is well known. In Vedic parlance, Vrishakapi is a deity pertaining to the area of the Sun God. Kausalya represents the human society. Sumitra (note the Mitra part of the name indicating Surya) representing the Simi- anthropous society of Vanaras. Kaikeyi represents the Rakshasa society. Lakshmana garlanding Sugriva is more in consonance with the stylised representation. Mandodari's dream as a parallel to Trijata's can be a folk motif of evil omen. Elongation of Hanuma's tail is both technical and folk-lorish, while Sita's letter to Rama is purely a folk modification. 

In the Yuddha Kanda story the episode of the squirrel helping Rama in constructing the 'Setu' is a folk invention. Indrajit's bringing of a maya-Sita to the battle field, the mention of Amrita-bhanda in the stomach of Ravana and the so called Patala homa are folk-motifs tending to magic and miracle. 

There is no need to touch upon the Uttara Kanda story. Similar will be the case in most of the deviations like the rishis creating Kusa out of Kusa grass etc. 

"I have approached your feet, O Venkataramana, my God of the loving and lotus-like eyes and abode of all that is good! I am a waif, my God, and you are my one refuge; take pity on me of your grace and look on me as your own. Think not of my failing my God, You who sleep on the serpent, O Great One! You look after whole nations; even so look after me. Sleeper on the serpent, Lord of mercy, Great Hayavadana." 

                                                                                                  Vadiraya


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