Ramayana

An epic tale in many forms

Print edition : January 06, 2017

Rama and Sita, Sacred Dancers of Angkor (all-female cast), Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Rama at Sita's swayamvara, Jyotipunja Sign Theatre, Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo: Benoy K.. Behl

Rama in the court of King Janaka, Saroja Vaidyanathan performance, India. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Rama with great bow and King Janaka, Saroja Vaidyanathan performance. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Ravana and King Janaka, Saroja Vaidyanathan performance, India. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Rama and Sita, Apsaras Arts, Singapore. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Rama and Sita, Saroja Vaidyanathan performance, India. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Rama and Sita, Malya Raja Shanthiya, Sri Lanka. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

King and Queen (Rama and Sita), Lhayee Lugar Performing Arts, Bhutan. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Rama, Sita and Lakshmana, Jyotipunja Sign Theatre, Kathmandu. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Surpanakha (as Sundari) and Lakshmana, Jyotipunja Sign Theatre, Kathmandu. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Ravana, Phralak Phralam Theatre, Luang Prabang, Lao PDR. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Golden deer and Ravana, Khon Ramakien, Thailand. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Rama and Sita, Khon Ramakien. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Sita and Lakshmana, Khon Ramakien. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Rama, Malya Raja Shanthiya, Sri Lanka. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Hanuman, Khon Ramakien. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Ravana, Khon Ramakien. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Ravana defeated, Aru Sri Art Theatre. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

Victorious Rama, Aru Sri Art Theatre, Sri Lanka. Photo: Benoy K. Behl

THE story of the great epic Ramayana is fascinating and simple. It centres on Rama, the Prince of Ayodhya in India. He is exiled by his father and sent to the forest for 14 years. His faithful wife, Sita, and his loyal brother Lakshmana follow him to the forest, where they live. Sita is tricked and abducted by the powerful and evil King Ravana. He takes her off to Lanka and keeps her in captivity there.

Rama searches for Sita and becomes friends with the powerful monkey leader Hanuman. Together, with an army of monkeys, they go to Lanka to rescue her. Ravana is killed and Sita is brought back. That is the essential outline of the story. The focus is on four of the principal characters, who continue to fascinate people to this day: Rama, Sita, Hanuman and Ravana. These are characters who dominate the imagination of vast populations.

The Ramayana has been the most popular story told to little children by grandparents across South and South-East Asia. Puppets and shadow puppets have been used to tell this tale. Some of the finest paintings, sculptures and reliefs across Asia have been based on the Ramayana.

From ancient times to the present day, the Ramayana has been the best-known story of billions of people. It is found today in comic books and in the most-watched TV serials of the region. The Ramayana portrays ethics in life, family values and even ethical rule by sovereigns. To this day, the Asian people speak about being guided by the characters in the Ramayana in their daily life.

Benoy K. Behl is a film-maker, art historian and photographer who is known for his prolific output of work over the past 40 years. He has taken over 50,000 photographs of Asian monuments and art heritage and made 138 documentaries, which are regularly screened at major cultural institutions worldwide. His photographic exhibitions have been warmly received in 58 countries around the world. He is in Limca Book of Records as the most travelled photographer.

This photo feature in two parts carries stills from Benoy K. Behl’s recent film made for Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. He has been assisted in the shooting and research by Sujata Chatterji.

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