Culture

Ramayanas of South and South-east Asia

Print edition : December 09, 2016

Rama and Sita. Ramayana Ballet, Prambanan Temple, Yogyakarta, Indonesia Photo: BENOY BEHL

Rama Relief. Prambanan Temple, ninth century, Yogyakarta. Photo: BENOY K. BEHL

Ravana in disguise and Sita. Ramayana ballet, Prambanan Temple, Yogyakarta. Photo: BENOY K. BEHL

Ravana and Sita. Ramayana ballet, Prambanan Temple, Yogyakarta. Photo: BENOY K. BEHL

Death of Jatayu. Ramayana ballet, Prambanan Temple, Yogyakarta. Photo: BENOY K. BEHL

Burning of Lanka. Ramayana ballet, Prambanan Temple, Yogyakarta. Photo: BENOY K. BEHL

Ravana being killed. Ramayana ballet, Prambanan Temple, Yogyakarta. Photo: BENOY K. BEHL

Rama and Lakshmana. Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang, Lao People's Democratic Republic. Photo: BENOY K. BEHL

Ravana. Guru Ammanoor Madhava Chakyar, Koodiyattam, Sanskrit dance drama. Photo: BENOY K. BEHL

Ravana, Wayang shadow puppet. Museum Wayang, Jakarta, Indonesia. Photo: BENOY K. BEHL

Death of Ravana. Lav Kush Ramlila Committee, New Delhi. Photo: BENOY K. BEHL

Ravana. Lav Kush Ramlila Committee. Photo: BENOY K. BEHL

Ravana, Odissi dance. Kiran Sehgal & Sahitya Kala Parishad (all female cast), New Delhi. Photo: BENOY K. BEHL

Statue of Bali. The island of Bali is named after the character in Ramayana. Photo: BENOY K. BEHL

Victorious Rama. Sala Chalermkrung Royal Theatre, Thailand. Photo: BENOY K. BEHL

Rama and Sita, Odissi dance. Kiran Sehgal &Sahitya Kala Parishad (all female cast). Photo: BENOY K. BEHL

Rama, Odissi dance. Kiran Sehgal & Sahitya Kala Parishad (all female cast). Photo: BENOY K. BEHL

Sita and Ravana. Kecak dance, Uluwatu Temple, Bali. Photo: BENOY K. BEHL

Imagine a figure who has been loved and worshipped by hundreds of millions of people in many countries for untold generations, a personality upon whom countless kings have modelled themselves, a story which has been central to the culture of many countries cutting across a spectrum of religions, an epic which has shaped the lives and daily behaviour of millions of people and provided them an ethical framework on which to build their understanding of their duties in the world.

We are speaking of the Ramayana, one of the great stories of the world. The story of the Ramayana is enacted more often than any other story in the world. It is performed by Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims. It is the most important cultural tradition of Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Nepal and India. It is also widely prevalent in Bhutan, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam.

The Ramayana is a great epic of ethics that teaches the values of life to men and women across South and South-East Asia. Scores of generations of children have watched these performances over 1,500 years, to learn the importance of leading an ethical life. The Ramayana has been the cornerstone of the life of South and South-East Asia. Many kings in these countries have taken the name of Rama, and cities and islands have been named after persons and places in the epic. Symbols of Vishnu (whose incarnation is Rama) have been royal emblems across the region.

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

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.

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