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Srimathi Krishnamachari"s questions

From: V. Sadagopan (
Date: Sat Feb 01 1997 - 19:26:21 PST

Srimathi KrishnamaAchari's  two questions were about 
posisble inconsistencies in the  different versions of 
RamAyaNA and the role of Vaishnavite women
in Spiritual pursuits , if I remember right .

1 . Srimadh RamAyaNam & its different versions 

On the illustrious  epic RamAyaNam , there are about 300 versions
in India . The oldest one is recognized as that of Sage Valmiki in 
Sanskrit . Ananndha RAmayaNam , AdhyAtma RamayaNam , Kambha 
RamAyaNam , AruNAchala Kavi"s Rama nAtakam , Bhavabhuthi's
MahAveera Charitham ( 700-740 AD ) , Swami Desikan's
( 1268-1369 AD )  Raghu Veera Gadhyam ,
Tulasi DasA's epic work in Hindi  completed in 1584 AD are some of 
the 300 existing today. There is even one  version called Thakkai RamAyaNam 
which is sung to the accompaniment of a small drum called 
Takkai , which is usually associated with Lord NatarAjA's 
sandhyA Thaandavam . Takkai RamAyaNam is almost like a 
commentary on Kambha RamAyaNam . 

The Story of RamA spread overseas to Burma , IndochinA and
Indonesia and even ChinA . The Thai version is known as Ramakien.
In central Java , RamAyaNA is performed as dances against 
an Islamic backdrop. Old javanese RamAyaNam has many 
interpolations.TheRamAyaNA reliefs in Prambanan temple 
in central java are art historians and archeologist's delight . 
The story of RamA has accumulated important features of 
local culture as seen in Hikayat Sri Rama , the malay version of
RamAyANam . One can safely say that the cultural milieu of
the region and the nation as well as the poet's own anubhavam 
of the immortal story had  significant  impacts on the blossoming
of many versions of RamAyaNA that we encounter today . Swami
Desikan has created  a masterly Kavyam known as Hamsa 
Sandesam  , which is modeleld after the Megha Sandesam 
of KaLi DAsA about RamA sending a  message to Sita in
captivity at  LankhA . There is no reference to any such incident
in Sage Valmiki 's epic. However , this kavyam of Sawmi Desikan 
is a testament ot his genius as a poet and geographer of the Indian
subcontinet . There is even a version called PatALa RamAyaNam ,
with a parallel plot and significant deviation in details in MalyALam 
and TamiL . The varieties are astounding indeed !

Even in one source like Sage valmiki's Srimadh RamAyaNam ,
there are recensions and subrecensions . There is a Northern 
rescension and a southern rescension .The transmission 
of the story of RamA , the performing traditions by PAURanIKaS,
the region , the choice of language and the POET'S ANUBHAVAM
OF THE STORY have all made quite an impact over time. 

Taking Kambha RamAyaNam as an example ,  He followed closely
the Sanskrit Version of sage Valmiki and yet he differeed from the 
original through introduction of fresh themes and descriptions to meet 
the requirements of his age (9th century AD ) marked by the glorious 
rules of imperial dynasties. Episodic deviations from reconstruction 
of the original text of Sage Valmiki have been analyzed by Scholars of 
RamAyaNam in academia. Inconsistencies ahve been pointed out by
academicians like Professor Henk Bodewitz of Leiden Univeristy.

It has been pointed out that Sufi poets like Jayasi have adopted episodes 
from RamAyaNa and Tualsidas was influenced to some extent by his
contemproaries like Jayasi in the conception of his RamacharithamAnasA . 
The social aspects of RamacharithamAnasA and its impact on the early 
17th and 18th century India has been well documented. There seems to be 
the influence of one generation of "story tellers " on the others and
in the commentaries of scholars on the original works dealing with the story 
of RamA . 

The essential message for Sri VishNavAs is that Srimadh RamAyaNam
is a SaraNAgathi Saasthram and that RamA is the embodiment of 
DharmaA ( DharmO vigrahavAn ). Swami Desikan 's work in Tamil 
revered as Abhaya PradhAna Saaram is the essence of the SaraNAgathi 
doctrine that is central to Sri Vaishnavite Theology and Philosophy .

2 . The role of Women in Sri VaishNavite Society

Srimathi VasudhA narAyaNan , SrimAns Mani and Vijay Srinivasan 
has commented already on this subject. Sthri Dharmam in 
a Vaishnavite home has been and should be a topic of significant
interest to all of us . The issues of gender , religion and ehtics 
are tightly interwoven. professor bvasudhA NarAyaNan referred to
the examples of AnDAL , wife of Kuresa and Koneri Daasyai as
exemplary women , whose life has deep meanings to us . Another 
Sri vaishNavite women ,  a contemproary of Sri RamAnujA and a dear 
disciple of this Great Acharya by the name of Kongu Piraatti . She removed 
the doubts and banished the fears of the Brahmavidhs , who were 
deeply worried about the life in post-RamAnuja period. I will write about 
her contributions in a later posting.

I will conclude this posting with a listing of some source literature
on Sri Vaishnavite women and Sthri Dharmam . I have in mind the 
following two scholarly articles that appeared in the Fall 1995 issue 
of the Journal of Vaishnava studies ( Volume 3 , No. 4) : 

1. Katherine K . Young , " Theology does help Women's Liberation:
Sri Vaishnavism, A Hindu Case study " pp173-232

2. Kim Knott , The debate about Women in Hare Krishna movement,
pp 85-110 .

3. Nancy Ann Nayar , The Other AnDAL , portrait of a 12th century 
Sri VishnavA woman , pp 149-171 ( This article is about KuresA's
pious and devout  wife referred to By Professor NarAyaNan  ) .

Professor Young Of McGill University , Canada has excellent points 
on the views of Sri VaishNavAs on women in the form of  a historical survey.
She wonders why there is a difference between conservative Brahminism
and Sri VaishNavism and attempts to answer these sensitive questions
in  a historical context . She  touches upon the situation  of contemproary
Sri VaishNavite women and ends her article on an upbeat note that the 
modern day Sri Vaishnavite women can use their rich heritage as a spring board 
for successful integration of their domestic and spiritual life.