Tag Archive: Sita


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By Sharon St Joan

 

In 1565, invaders poured into the magnificent city of Hampi, one of the largest cities in the world at that time, leveling many of the buildings and much of the artwork, and slaughtering nearly all the city’s residents.

 

Located in the southern state of Karnataka, in India, the Hazara Rama Temple is one of the most remarkable temples of this ancient city. Inside are black polished stone columns, exquisitely carved. At the city’s final hour, as the marauding armies drew near the city gates, some of the temple devotees were thinking only of protecting the temple’s central icons.

 

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During the destruction of Hampi, many sculptures all over the city, icons that were worshipped and revered, were violently smashed and broken. Some fragments lay on the ground for hundreds of years afterwards, with no way of restoring them.

 

If one looks closely at the floor of the temple interior of the Hazara Rama Temple, one can see four empty rectangles where today nothing stands, yet clearly sculptures once stood there. Apparently, as the armies approached, some worshippers, with the help of others – no one knows who – were able to spirit away four of the key temple icons – Rama, Laksmana, Sita, and Hanuman – before the invaders broke through the gates. The unknown devotees who, out of love for the Gods they worshipped, moved them in the dark of night, must have buried them in an unknown location, intending to return later to restore them to the temple. It seems they were never able to return. Thanks to their brave act of devotion, the icons, which have never been found, rest in peace and were spared from being broken.

 

The outside walls of the temple remained intact and are lined with thousands of panels, beautifully sculpted, that tell the story of the Ramayana – one of the two great epic poems of India. The Ramayana is very long – several books, but in a nutshell the story is this: The ancient god-king Rama is looking for his wife, Sita, who has been kidnapped by the demon-king of Lanka (today’s Sri Lanka). Rama is distraught, not knowing what to do or where to look for his beloved Sita. In the forest of Kishkinda, he meets the monkey god, Hanuman – a magical being who becomes known for his undying loyalty and devotion to Rama and Sita. Hanuman brings light and positivity into a desperate situation; he travels with Rama to help find Sita, and time after time against impossible odds, he finds a way to overcome all the obstacles that block their way – building a bridge across the sea, transporting a whole mountain top on which healing herbs are growing, finding and communicating with the missing Sita, and then selflessly allowing Rama himself to rescue her. Hanuman brings the gift of life with his innocence, devotion, and magical abilities.

 

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Just across the river from the ruined city of Hampi, which is now a World Heritage Center, lies the wilderness of rocks and forests where Hanuman was born and where he spent his early life. This whole area was the forest of Kishkinda, many thousands of years before Hampi was built in the fourteenth century.

 

All around the outside walls of the Hazara Rama Temple run the enchanting panels that depict, with immense charm, the story of Rama’s and Hanuman’s journey to find the lost Sita. While travelers flock to this spectacular late medieval city, it is Hanuman’s story and Hanuman’s presence that provide the backdrop for the city of Hampi.

 

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The wonderfully sculpted panels of the temple portray the events of the story. Hanuman is engaging and clever. He always finds a way where there seems not to be one. When he has no idea at all what he can do, or how he can help, he never gives up, and then an inspiration will come into his head. Sometimes he acts impulsively, without much advance planning. At the moment when he locates the cave where the kidnapped Sita is being kept, it dawns on him that he has never actually met Sita, and that naturally, not knowing who he is, she may be afraid of him. So, with his magical powers, he reduces his height, becoming very small and unthreatening, speaking very gently to her – appearing to be just a little forest monkey who would not harm anyone. Rama has also given Hanuman his signet ring as a token to give to Sita so that she will know that he has been sent by her husband Rama. That helps too.

 

Hanuman has been sent by Rama to find Sita because, being a magical creature, he can fly through the air – something the human being, Rama, cannot do. Rama cannot traverse the several miles of ocean that lie between India and Sri Lanka. Later, when the bridge has been built across the sea by Hanuman’s friends, the army of monkeys, then Rama also can cross the sea to Sri Lanka.

 

Hanuman is intensely charming because, in his innocence, he does not recognize his own strength and his own powers. It is only when he is reminded by someone else that he becomes aware that he can do amazing tasks, such as getting his monkey and bear friends to build a bridge across the ocean, that he can fly, or grow smaller or taller, or pick up a mountain and carry it thousands of miles – that he has the powers and the ability to find and restore to Rama, his lost wife Sita.

 

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But there is something else very captivating and charming – and that is the intense devotion to Hanuman of the sculptors and temple builders who created these beautiful evocative images of Hanuman – and the reverence of the many thousands of worshippers who come here to see this re-creation of the life of Hanuman and the story of Rama and Sita.

 

It is with great love and faithfulness that artists carved the wonderful lifelike images of Hanuman and all the other beings in the story. It is with profound reverence that they brought the images to life.

 

An uncomprehending eye might say that after all, this is just the story of a flying, talking monkey – something like a child’s story from thousands of years ago – about a forest animal that travels through the air — what could be its relevance today?

 

But the devotees from all over India and from farther away who visit these beautiful images do not see it that way. Instead they are caught up in the magic of this heroic presence, Hanuman – always faithful, always innocent, ever brave, and endowed with the magical gifts needed to bring light, life, and a happy ending to this ancient tale. It is a story of profound loyalty and a beautiful heroic spirit – a story always relevant to all times and all places.

 

Thank you to Dr. Nanditha Krishna for her profound insights into the character of Hanuman.

 

Photos: Sharon St Joan

Top photo: Hanuman on the right, and, above, giving the ring to Sita.

Second photo: The temple interior.

Third photo: More scenes from the Ramayana.

Fourth photo: A winged being.

Fifth photo: A black polished column and a visitor to the temple.

 

© Sharon St Joan, 2017

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One of the temple gates.

 

One must walk barefoot on the grounds of a Hindu Temple. At the Ramanathaswamy Temple, the approach to the temple begins several streets away, and all this ground is sacred and belongs to the temple; walking barefoot over the cobbled stones and occasional debris can be a bit of a challenge.

 

Inside the temple, it is cool and dark. Through large windows, one can see through to the outside, where the temple is surrounded by 22 theerthas. These are huge sacred tanks; pilgrims are blessed by immersion in the water. This is generally accomplished by people filing by as a priest pours an entire bucket of water over each of their heads.

 

Still dripping, the pilgrims then enter the main part of the temple. In the floor near the entranceway, are shallow channels which carry away the water.

 

One of India’s holiest sites, the island of Rameshwaram is where the ancient King Rama journeyed on his way to Lanka to rescue his kidnapped wife Sita. Rameshwaram lies off the coast of mainland India on the way to Sri Lanka.

 

Thousands of years ago, during the course of rescuing Sita, Rama killed her abductor, the demon-king Ravana. The problem that arose, however, was that Ravana, even though he was not a very nice fellow, was a Brahmin – and this meant that by killing him, Rama was guilty of the sin of Brahmahatya, or killing a Brahmin – a sin that had to be expiated.

 

Ravana, the ten-headed demon king of Lanka.

Ravana, the ten-headed demon king of Lanka.

 

So Rama, on his return from Lanka with the rescued Sita, stopped at the site where today the Rameshwaram temple stands, to worship Shiva and to be cleansed from his sin. The very ancient site was sacred to Shiva even then. Rama sent his trusted friend the monkey God Hanuman to go to Mount Kailash to bring back a shivalingam, a representation of Shiva, to install in the temple. Mount Kailash is in the Himalayas, thousands of miles north of Rameshwaram which is in the far south of India, so, even though Hanuman could fly, it took him a while. It took so long that in the meantime, Sita had built a small lingam out of mud and placed it in the temple.

 

When Hanuman returned with the large stone lingam he had brought from the far north, Rama decreed that both lingams would always remain in the temple, where they are today.

 

Like other ancient south Indian temples, the Ramanathaswamy Temple is surrounded by a high rectangular wall which runs 865 feet from east to west and 657 feet from north to south.

 

The temple is at least as old as the time of the Ramayana, which may be around 3,000 BCE. In the beginning, it was a simple shed in the charge of a hermit. The building of the temple in its current form was begun during the Pandyan Dynasty of south India.

 

Other kings added structures from the twelfth through the seventeenth centuries, gradually expanding the temple to the huge complex it is today.

 

The temple contains the longest temple corridor to be found anywhere in the world; the outer wing of the third corridor goes 690 feet east and west, as well as 435 feet north and south. Standing at the corner where they meet in a right angle, one can look a very long way down one way and then down the other. On either side of the corridor, 1212 carved columns rise from five foot high platforms and stretch 27 feet up to the ceiling. There are also inner corridors.

 

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The longest temple corridor in the world.

 

On a visit to the temple in the early years of the twentieth century, the Hindu saint, Swami Vivekananda, gave an address, saying: “Let me tell you again that you must be pure and help anyone who comes to you as much as lies in your power. And this is good Karma. By the power of this, the heart becomes pure and then Shiva who is residing in everyone, will become manifest.”

 

Rameswaram is one of the four holiest places of pilgrimage in India; these lie in the four directions. They are Varanasi (Benares) in the north, Puri in the east in Odisha, Ramaneshwaram in the south, and Dwarka in the west. Rameswaram is sacred to both Vaishnavites and Shaivites, both those who worship Vishnu and those who worship Shiva.

 

 

© Sharon St Joan, 2014

 

Top photo: Vinayaraj / Wikimedia Commons / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. One of the gopurams or gates of the Temple.

 

Second photo: Painting by an unknown artist around 1920. /Wikimedia Commons. / This work is in the public domain in India because its term of copyright has expired. / Ravana.

 

Third photo: Purshi /  Wikimedia Commons / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. /  Te longest temple corridor in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“A Million Sitas”

 

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Across the stage, the dancer Anita Ratnam engages the sparkling, magical butterfly in conversation, one beautiful day in the woodlands.  She trails after the butterfly from branch to branch, and they talk to each other.  It turns out that the lovely butterfly is really Manthara.  When she appears in her human form in the story of Rama and Sita, Manthara is a quite different, unattractive creature, physically disabled as a hunchback, with a conniving, manipulative personality.

 

Drawn to Manthara in her form as the innocent butterfly, Anita expresses her understanding of the pain that Manthara must feel in her human form, when she is the brunt of jokes and even has stones thrown at her by village boys.

 

On Saturday, February 9, 2013, Anita Ratnam gave the complimentary performance “A Million Sitas” at the C.P.R. Centre for the Arts, as part of the Ramayana Festival being held at the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, in Chennai, during the month of February.

 

One of the outstanding performers of Indian classical dance, Anita Ratnam has a Ph.D in Women’s Studies from the University of Madras, and has had a four-decades long, brilliant career in theatre and television, in the U.S., in India, and in a dozen other countries.

 

Her dance performances focus on the woman as a pivotal force in Indian myth and legend – and as a vital force in today’s world, no longer to be veiled or suppressed, but to be acknowledged and valued. Myth is central to the process, and Anita calls myth “the deeper truth.”

 

Sita and Rama are embedded in the Indian consciousness. For five thousand years, every Indian woman has felt an inescapable connection with the role of Sita, who on a straightforward level, is the wife of Rama in the Hindu epic poem, the Ramayana. From the time they are tiny tots, all Indian children, both boys and girls, are surrounded by the enchanting songs and stories of Rama and Sita.

 

The story of the Ramayana turns on the fate of Sita, who is abducted by the demon Ravana and in the end, after many twists and turns, is rescued by her husband Rama.  When they return home, he is crowned king.

 

Of course, in India, nothing is simple.  At the beginning of the story, Sita, portrayed as the obedient, faithful wife, chooses to go with her husband when, through no fault of his own, he is banished into the forest. As well as being a faithful wife, however, Sita is far more than that; she is a strong, dynamic woman, with her own wishes, thoughts, and views. She is very learned and, although quite young, is a scholar.  She is an environmental and animal advocate long before there was such a thing, appealing to her husband to give up hunting and to protect and respect the forest animals and their habitat. Ultimately, she is a Goddess, whose true place lies in heaven. She is absolutely central to the Ramayana; without Sita there would be no story.

 

The performance “A Million Sitas” touches on many of the female roles in the Ramayana.  All are intertwined with Sita – she is part of them, and they a part of her.

 

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Usually the character Surpanakha is portrayed as an evil demoness who falls in love with Rama and makes inappropriate advances first to him, then to his brother Lakshmana. Offended by her behavior, Lakshmana attacks her, disfiguring her face, and she flees back to her home in Lanka (Sri Lanka), complaining to her demon brother, Ravana, who then kidnaps Rama’s wife, Sita.  In “A Million Sitas,” Anita reveals a radically different view of Surpanakha.

 

Anita’s dramatic portrayal of Surpanakha, wearing a black cape and an elegant mask, with long painted fingernails, shows us a tribal woman from a matrilineal society. For her there is nothing remotely shameful or inappropriate in the advances she makes to Rama and Lakshmana, which are, in her world, entirely normal and natural. Instead, it is the brothers’ brutal response that is shocking.

 

In a series of profoundly beautiful dance scenes, allowing the characters to shine in a new light, Anita dismantles the centuries-old patriarchal cast that has grown up around the Ramayana story, showing us the women in the story as they may originally have lived—and revealing the shining hero and Goddess Sita in her myriad forms of “a million Sitas.”

 

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Photos: Sharon St Joan

Top photo: Anita in conversation with the butterfly (as Manthara)

Second photo: Surpanakha

Third photo: Anita Ratnam with Dr. Nanditha Krishna, Honorary Director of the C.P. Ramaswamy Aiyar Foundation

 

 

To view the website of Anita Ratnam, click here.

 

 

To visit the website of the C.P Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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By the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation

THE RAMAYANA IN LITERATURE, SOCIETY AND THE ARTS

A Festival organized by                                                       

The C.P. RAMASWAMI AIYAR FOUNDATION 1, Eldams Road, AlwarpetChennai 600 018, India.www.cprfoundation.orgTel.: 91-44-2431778, 24337023e-mail: cprafoundation@gmail.comramayanaconference@gmail.com

 

FEBRUARY 2013

The C.P. RAMASWAMI AIYAR FOUNDATION is celebrating the role of the great epic in the culture of India and South-East Asia.

The Ramayana is a great epic which knows no boundaries of religion or nation. It has taught the values of life and behaviour to men and women over centuries, across India and South-East Asia. There is no finer example in the world of a multi-religious, international culture than the Ramayana. Scores of generations of children have watched performances and narrations of the great epic over 2,000 years, to learn the importance of an ethical life. This has been the cornerstone of the life of India and South-East Asia. Many kings in these countries have taken the name of Rama, cities and islands have been named after persons and places in the epic and symbols of Vishnu (whose incarnation is Rama) have been royal emblems across the region.

The story of the Ramayana is enacted more often than any other story of the world. It is performed by Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims. It is the most important cultural tradition of Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal and India. It has also been widely prevalent in Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. The Ramayana is the great bond of culture which unites India and the countries of South East Asia.

FEBRUARY 1, 2013, at 10 a.m.INAUGURATION by His Holiness SWAMI DAYANANDA SARASWATHI.

                                                     Dr. SUBRAMANIAMSWAMY presides.

Release of the following publications:

1 VALMIKI RAMAYANA by late Justice N. Chandrasekhara Aiyer.

THESETU AND RAMESHWARAM by late Shri N.Vanamamalai Pillai.

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VENUE for all programmes – The C.P. RAMASWAMI AIYAR FOUNDATION, 1 ELDAMS ROAD, ALWARPET, CHENNAI 600018.

PROGRAMME

FEBRUARY 1 to 24  –              Exhibition of the RAMAYANA in PAINTING, SCULPTURE

                                                and POPULAR CULTURE

                                                organised by C.P. ART CENTRE                                                                

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The Ramayana as it has been created in early 20th century oleographs, miniature and folk painting, bronzes, terracotta and popular toys will be on display. A map of India with Rama’s  route from Ayodhya to Lanka and scenes of the various events that took place in each site will be depicted by clay toys.

There will be performances of the RAMAYANA in HARIKATHA, MUSIC and DANCE during this period. The final programme will be posted later.

FEBRUARY 1 and 2  –   International Conference on the RAMAYANA in LITERATURE, SOCIETY and the ARTS organised by C. P. R. INSTITUTE OF INDOLOGICAL RESEARCH.

All conference participants should be registered. While there is no participation fee, we are limiting the number of participants, so please register as soon as possible.

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FEBRUARY 1 & 2, 2013 – RAMAYANA CONFERENCE

SPEAKERS (in alphabetical order)  

1.    Tracing the Antiquity of the Ramayana – Through the Inscriptions, literature and 

       Art of the Gupta …..Dr. Ashvini Agarwal

2.    Plant Diversity in the Valmiki Ramayana…..M. Amirthalingam and Dr. P. Sudhakar

3.    The Influence of Ramayana on Kalidasa…..Dr. S. Annapurna

4.    Ethical Values of Ramayana…..Dr. V. Balambal

5.    Time-honored Depictions of Ramayana in Vidarbha (Maharashtra) during Vakatakas…..Kanchana Bhaisare, B.C. Deotare and P.S. Joshi

6.    Highlights from the Chronology of Ayodhya…..Nicole Elfi and Michel Danino

7.    Temples in and around Thanjavur District, in Tamil Nadu connected with Ramayana…..Dr. S. Gayathri

8.    The Historical Rama…..Dr. D.K. Hari and D.K. Hema Hari

9.    Historicity of Rawana and Trails of Rama – Seetha in Srilanka…..Devmi Jayasinghe

10.  Women in Ramayana – Portrayals, Understandings, Interpretations and Relevance…..Dr. Prema Kasturi

11.  Telling or Showing? Ramayana in Graphic Novels…..Aarttee Kaul Dhar

12.  Historicity of Ramayana on the leads of Plato’s Timaeus and Critias and Valmiki’s Ramayana…..N.C.K. Kiriella

13.  Rama Temples in South India…..Dr. Chithra Madhavan

14.  Epic retold – Ramayana influencing English graphic novels for children in India over the years…..Dr. Lopamudra Maitra

15.  Chudamani – The crest jewel of Sita and its Symbolism in the Ramayana…..Dr. Soumya Manjunath Chavan

16.  Bhratru Bhava in Ramayana – A Critique (Bonding Relationship of Brotherhood in Ramayana)…..Dr. V. Mohan

17.  Ramayana as a source for Yogic concepts…..R. Muthulakshmi

18.  A few important Pahari Ramayana Drawings and Painting from the Seth Kasturbhai Lalbhai        Collection…..Dr. Indubala J. Nahakpam

19.  Textual and Contextual Dynamism in RamayanaSculptures…..Dr. Choodamani Nandagopal

20.  The depiction of Rani Kaikeyi in the Ramacharitamanasa…..Dr. Haripriya Rangarajan

21.  Dream Motif – Ramayana Inheritance…..Dr. Ramadevi Sekhar

22.  Valmiki and many Ramayanas…..Tilak Shankar

23. Sri Ram Temple at Ayodhya…..Dr. A. K. Sharma

24.  Re – Telling Ramayana: Performing Women in Ramlila of Ramnagar…..Dr. Anita Singh

25.  The Ramayana as the Inexhaustible Site of Cultural Contexts…..Dr. Avadhesh Kumar Singh

26.  Glimpses of Ramayana in the Hymns of Saiva Saints of Tamilnadu…..Dr. Bala Sivakadadcham

27.  Iconographic trends in Rama worship: Insights from techno – cultural studies of  bronzes…..Dr. Sharada Srinivasan

28.  The Art of Administration as depicted in Valmiki Ramayana…..Dr. R. Subasri

29.  The Didactic Representation of the Characters of Ramayana in Sanskrit Literary Tradition…..P.P. Sudarsan

30.  Ramayana and Bhattikavya…..Dr. Sita Sundar Ram

31.  Ramayana and the works of Mahamahopadhyaya Sri Lakshmana Suri…..Dr. Uma Maheshwari

32.  Characterization of Sri Rama in Mandodari Chatusloki……Dr. M. Varadarajan

33.  Plight of Sita in Chudamani Episode – A Study…..S. Kumuda Varadarajan

34.  Ramanayana panel sculptures from Tiruchenampoondi, Pullamangai and other early Chola temples in Tamil Nadu…..Dr. S. Vasanthi

35.  Axioms as idioms and proverbs – Ramayana’s influence on society…..K. Vidyuta

36.  Uttarakhand in Avani: Sita’s life in exile and the Cholas’ religious policy in the aftermath        of the Govindaraja Controversy (1186 – 1279)…..Dr. Usha R. Vijailakshmi

37.  Ramayana Musical Compositions……Dr. V. Yamuna Devi 

For further information, please write to the above e-mail / postal addresses.Or call G. Balaji: +91-94441 54939 or Malathy Narasimhan: +91- 97100 49639

Please visit our website: www.ramayanafestival2013.org

Top image: Author: Raja Ravi Press / Source: http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00routesdata/bce_299_200/ramayana/goldendeer/goldendeer.html  / Wikimedia Commons / The lord Rama portrayed as exile in the forest, accompanied by his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana / http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rama_in_forest.jpg

Second image: Wikimedia Commons: “This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired in the United States and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.” / Valmiki composing the Ramayana / http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Valmiki_Ramayana.jpg

Third image: Artist: Raja Ravi Varma / Varuna the Lord of ocean, pacifying Sri Rama, who stands on the shore, angered at the intransigence of the sea. / Wikimedia Commons: “This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.” 

Fourth image: Artist: Raja Ravi Varma / Wikimedia Commons: “This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.” / Hanuman