Ramayana was composed in Sanskrit probably about 300 B.C. by Valmiki and its present form consists of 24000 couplets (slokams) divided into 7 kandams (books). Cutting across the rational boundaries and family of languages Ramayana attracted all kinds of people. It has so many translations in to the vernacular languages and it enriched literary out put of almost all languages of India and neighboring countries. Recitation of Ramayana is considered as an act of worship even today. The birth, the marriage and the death are important events in human life, and on all these occasions, Ramayana occupy a significant role in Indian life, especially in Kerala.
He influence of Ramayana in Kerala can be classified into two streams viz. 1. literature based on Ramayana 2. cultural traits which shows Ramayana influence. The first group may be classified into (A) Translations (B) Independent creative works (C) Folklore (D) Poems having indirect influence (E) Prose literature. Cultural traits which shows Ramayana influence covers a wide area such as family set up, personal names, customs, sculptures, wall pictures, place names and temples
Literature based on Ramayana Translations
Translation of various Ramayana are available in Malayalam from 14th century C.E. onwards rightly from the composition of Ramacaritam by Cirama. On verifying the translations available, one can see different approaches rendered such as word by word, free and abridged modes.
B. Independent works
Ramayanam story was the major source for literary compositions in Malayalam right from the period of its evolution. Almost all literary genres in Malayalam unearthed the treasures hidden in this great epic of Valmiki. Thanks to innumerable folk and temple centered art forms for their effective use of Ramayana theme by keeping its sanctity and humanistic vision. Art forms like Kuttu, Kutiyattam, Pathakam, Kathakali, Tullal, Tolpavakkuttu, Teyyam, Purakkali, Pateni, Villaticcan pattu etc. are worthy to mention here due to their role in the circulation of Ramayana stories in Kerala. Cakkiyars, the traditional performers of Kuttu and Kutiyattam mainly followed Ascarya cudhamani a Sanskrit drama, of 8th century C.E. from Kerala for enacting their classical arts in temples. Here follows a selective list of Malayalam works on Ramayanam stories fully or partially used for performing various arts inherited by the God's own country.
1.Kuttu and Kutiyattam
Literary works used for staging this classical art is mainly from Sanskrit. Dramas of Bhasa, saktibhadra and Kulasekhara Varma is the chief source for telling Kuttu and performing Kutiyattam. Both Kuttu and Kutiyattam performances of Kerala is conspicuous with its antiquity and its adherence to 'Natya sastra' by Bharata. The text which describes various aspects of staging a stroy is called Attaprakaram. Attaprakaram which explains the performance of Ramakatha (story of Rama).
The literary work meant for staging Kathakali is called Attakkatha. The major works are:
1 AhalyamokSam Udayavarma Puttan Kottaram, Mavelikkara
2 AhalyamokSam Virakerala Varma Tampuran, Kochi
3 OuSadhaharanam Narayana Menon, Vallattol
Tullal is a kind of stage play with accompaniment of rhythmic dance and music. Kunchan Nampiyar the greatest compositor of Tullal songs profoundly used Ramayana stories in his own way for criticizing the contemporary society of his time. Not only Nampiyar but also many poets who composed Tullal poems also received themes from Ramayana. All these works gave wide popularity to Ramayana stories among common folk, who were mainly the appreciators of Tullal performance.
4. Sanskrit dramas having Ramayana
In addition to this, translations of Sanskrit dramas having Ramayana stories also constitute a major role in spreading Ramayana stories in Kerala. The plays wrote by Bhasa, Bhavabhuti, Dignaga, saktibhadra, Murari, have translations in Malayalam.
5 Kaikottikali / Tiruvatira
Kaikottikkali or Tiruvatira is a game of dance to the accompaniment of clapping of hands and songs, performed by women, on festive occasions. Certain songs used for performing this art narrates stories selected from Ramayana.It is a temple performing art staged in Bhadrakali temples of central Kerala on festive occasions. It is a shadow play with puppets. Puppets representing different character of Ramayana whose movements were regulated by strings. Puppets were played before a white curtain so as to get its shadow on the screen. Audience gets the view of shadows only. The text used for this play is KampaRamayanam. Puppet plays is performed with the oral discourses spell out by the individuals who regulates the movements of puppets. As the stage of this play was outside the temple the untouchable lower communities also got opportunity to view this art and get acquaintance with Ramayana stories. It is calculated that this art became popular in Kerala only after the composition of KampaRamayanam. While the classical art Koottu and Kutiyattam follows Sanskrit dramatic traditions, Tolpavakuttu keeps Tamil tradition.
Ramayana stories are also seen in songs intended for singing on various occasions such as marriage, rhythemic dancing, eulogisation of Gods, invocation of Goddess Kali, boat race and swinging. Such songs, are called as Pattu, a generic term to designate any type of song for instance vancippattu, unnalppattu, panappattu, kalampattu, pana, kilippattu, gatha, kirttanam, kurattippattu, tarattu and kalyanappattu.
A) Vancippattu – song sung in chorus by boat men especially by rowers in boat races.
The songs sung during swinging, comes under this category
1. AhalyamokSam K.Kochukrishna Pillai
2. AhalyamokSam K.C.Kunjan Vaidyan
3. Sitaharanam Sankuvasan
These songs are sung by Pana community in auspicious occasions with the accompaniment of string instruments. Very few Panappattu bears Ramayanam stories. For eg. AhalyamokSam in 'Panappattukal' collected and published by G. Bhargavan Pilla.
Literally kilipattu means ‘parrot song’ introduced by Thunchaththu Ramanujan Ezhuthachan for narrating Ramayana and Mahabharata stories in native Dravidian metre. This kind of songs are intended for daily recitation as a mode of worship or for literary interest.
E) Panappattu - Songs written in Pana metre, eg:-
1. Ankuliyankam Anon. (Oriental Manuscript Library. Publication)
3. Sundarakandam Anon -
- do -
F) Ancukalam Pattu
The songs composed in native metres which were used for singing in leisurely time. eg:-
1. Ayoddya Kandam Kodungalloor Kunjikkuttan Tampuran
2. GarudaRamayanam Kunjappa, Katankulangara
3. Balivijayam Anon
4. Lankamarddanam Krishnan Nampiyar
G) Pattu or Gadha
The songs which were composed in native vernacular metres mainly used for recitations in leisurely hours by women folk. eg:-
1. PutrakameSthi Anon
2. Ramayana - do -
3. Ramayanam gatha - do -
Hymns in praise of God or Goddesses are called Kirttanam. Kirttanam is used for worshipping favourable deities, God or Goddesses as a part of ritualistic performance. Innumerable songs of this category is available in Malayalam.
1. Ramayanakirttanam Anon
2. Ramayanasankirttanam - do -
3. Ramavataram Anon
4. Sandhyanamam Several poems composed by known and unknown poets.
Folk songs sung by Kuravan and Kuratti of Kurava commuity is called Kurattippattu. Kurava is a wandering tribe of basket makers, snake charmers and fortune tellers of Kerala.
eg:- Ramayanam Kurattippattu Anon
J) Tarattu (lullaby)
Tarattu is a nursing rhyme intended for singing to cause the child to sleep.
eg:- 1. Ramayanam Sreevaraham Govindan Vaidyan
Ammana is a game of throwing up and catching balls or fruits with accompaniment of rhythmic dancing. The chorus song in accompaniment of above game is called Ammanappattu.
L) Kalyanappattu (Marriage song)
This song is intended for singing in connection with 'tali- tying' locally called talikettu kalyanam is a ceremony in which tali - a chain tied by the bridegroom round the neck of the bride at the time of the marriage- is tied in anticipation of marriage. This custom is now more or less extinct.Songs which were composed by using different Sanskrit and Dravidian metres are available in Malayalam generally known by the number of metres used in them. For instance: patinonnu vrttam. (eleven metre). Other examples:
M) Literary genres
Under this category different literary genres having Ramayanam themes are dealt with. Since prose literature is treated separately in this treatise, poetic works alone is listed here. This category has no relation to any kind of performing arts, except certain campu verses.
It is a form of classical literature in which prose and verse are interspersed. eg:-
1. BhaSa Ramayana campu Kadathanattu Krishnan variyar
2. Ramayana campu Punam Namboodiri
3. Ravanavijayam Anon (Oriental Manuscript library publication 1930)
Long poem observing certain specified rules regarding subject and treatment eg:-
Ramacandravilasam Azhakattu Padmanabhakkuruppu
iii). Khandakavyam (Short poem) eg:
1. Uurmmila V. Unnikrishnan Nair
2. - do - Pallattu Raman
3. Oru sandesam Karayil Krishnan Gurukkal
iv) Poems - descriptive and lyrical
1. Premamguliyam T.R. Nair
2. BalaRamayanam Anon (mentioned by Gundert)
3. Balivijayam Anon
Ramayana is a very ancient theme in the Indian folklore. The story of Rama inspired bards and traditional singers of India even before the composition of the great epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata. "Infact Rama theme seem to have originated in folklore as is evident from the first question put by Valmiki to Narada: who in this world is the person, who is endowed with manly qualities and whose life should be the proper theme for a poem". (Vidya Nivas Mistra).
The story of Rama and Ramayana are so close to the heart and soul of Malayalis since last hundred years. There exist a lot of versions of Ramayana stories in the folk and oral literature of Kerala. Folk songs like Kontron pattu, Sarppappattu, Torrampattu, Brahmanippattu. Pappinippattu, Kelvippattu, Pulappattu bear reminiscence of Ramayana stories. Ramayana theme reflected in Kerala's folklore covers the areas such as oral folk poetry (natanpattu), proverbs sayings, folk speech, folk performing arts (eg. Teyyam, Patayani), folk customs and belief.
D. Literary work having indirect influence
Among Ramayana characters Rama, LakSmana, Sita, Hanuman, Urmmila and Ravana are the popular characters inspired writers to retell the deeds by highlighting the peculiarities which had not got much emphasis in epics. Interpreting the original stories in the background of contemporary life situations is the narrative technique generally followed in this kind of literary dictions. Ramayana themes presented in poetic forms like lyrics, sonnets, monologue and odes comes under this category.
E. Evaluative works
Studies on Ramayana's are abundant in Malayalam. For instance:
Valmikiyute lokattil - I.C. Chacko, Valmikiyute Raman, Kuttikrishna Marar etc.
F. Prose Literature
As a literary genre Malayalam prose emanates towards the end of the 10th century C.E. in the form of Attaprakaram and Kramadipika. Attaprakaram codified the additional sub-stories and versions of themes for staging a story in the form of Kutiyattam. surppanakankam, an Attaprakara supposed to be the earliest work on Ramayanam in Malayalam is a free version of surppanakha episode narrated by Sanskrit dramatist saktibhadra in his 'Ascaryacudamani.' The episode told here is in prose form. Another work on Ramayanam is Asokavanikankam, which also designated as an Attaprakaram belongs to 10th century A.D. narrates the events happened at 'Asoka' garden of Ravana at Lanka. Kramadiipika another prose work related to the stage art Kutiyattam, describes the settings and 'rangapuja' (stage worship). In this work so many slokas (verses) were quoted with humerous interpretations on Ramakatha. A number of verses and also alternative versions cited in these works are said to be the contribution of the humorist Tolan, who had modified Kutiyattam.
Highly developed literary forms in modern Malayalam are Novels and stories. But the treatments of Ramayana theme in these genres are not so much to commend. Novels like Virahatapam (Janardhana Menon, Kunnathu), Siitayanam ( Surendran.K), VamsasakSi (Gopalakrishnan Nair. G.)
F. Ramayana theme in cultural traits
Under this category the treatment of Ramayana theme in the areas like sculptures, wall paintings, temples dedicated to Ramayana deities, folk arts, fine arts, customs and beliefs are dealt with.
The earliest sculptural representation of Ramayana is seen in a cave temple of 9th century C.E. located at Kottukal, a suburben village near Catayamannalam in Kollam district. Here the curse of Nandi on Ravana is depicted in the eastern wall of the cave temple. The entire sculpture includes a figure of a monkey and infront of it a figure of an ox (Nandi)
Among sculptures, wooden sculptures which mainly adorns the sanctum sanctorium of temples, stands first in the artistic perfection and localization of Ramayana theme. The following temples have a number of wooden sculptures on Ramayana.
Wall paintings in Kerala temples and palaces are conspicuous with its indegenous costumes and style. Ramayana stories were found widely used in wall paintings. Mattanceri palace (1552 A.D.) built by Dutch for Cochin Rajas is famous for its wall paintings on Ramayana stories. Here sixty pictures were seen bearing Ramayana theme. Padmanabhapuram palace in Kannyakumari district is also famous for its wall paintings on Sri Rama pattabhiSekam (coronisation of Rama).
Temples at Panayannar kavu, Pandaripuram, Totikkalam, Morala, Purameri, Lokanarkavu, Kaccamkurussi, Kannampram, Tiruvancikkulam, Trprayar, Kantalur, Kottackal, Etappalli, Tiruvattar has so many wall paintings touching various scenes from Ramayana stories like recitation of Ramayana by Hanuman, coronisation of Rama, assembling of Dasaratha and his wifes, the fall of Ravana, battle between Rama and Ravana and Sita sitting below Asoka tree.
Temples consecrated for Ramayana deities
Rama, Sita, Laksmana, Bharata, satrughna and Hanuman are the chief characters who attained Godship, worshipped in Kerala. Sita's worship is mainly located in hilly region of Kerala especially in Wayanad district. Sitadevi temple in Pulpalli, Rama temple at Ponkuli in Wayanad is worthy to mention. In Pulpalli Sita is worshipped along with her son Lava and Kusa. For tribal peoples of Wayanad Sita is the deity of chastity. In Ponkuli, there is a lotus lake, believed to be bathed by Sita.
A custom prevailed in Matriarchal families in olden days is worthy to note. If the elder son of a couple is Rama the younger one will be named as Krishna. That was the custom followed here. Other personal names adopted from Ramayanam includes Sita, LakSmana, Bharata, Satrughna, Reghu, Raghava, Maithili, Sumitra, Janaki, Svayamprabha and coined names such as Setupati, SetulakSmi, Kalyana Raman, Sitaraman, Siitapati, Setunath, Reghupati, SitalakSmi and Ramanathan.
Ramayana in Palmyra leaf pictures
The oral and written traditions of Ramayana gave rise to its visual representation in wall paintings, shadow plays, sculptures and drawings in various media. Ramayana in palm leaf pictures was popular in Kerala as is evidenced by palm leaf pictures kept in the palace library of Trippunithura and Oriental Manuscript Library of Thiruvananthapuram. It is reported that Nilakanthan Namputiri of Kannur mana, Orrappalam has a CitraRamayana drawn by an anonymous artist in his personal collections. (vide 'South Indian Paintings' - Sivarama Murthy, Publication division, Govt. of India, New Delhi, 1994). In Trippunithura palm leaf, the pictures of Karttaviryarjuna and surppanakha episodes are seen. Bali Sugriva battle is another subject treated in this palmyra drawings. Oriental manuscript library palm leaf pictures covers almost all Ramayana stories. 'CitraRamayanam' is the title given by the artist to his drawings.
The only information regarding the artist is that he was a disciple of Balakavi of Bimbalinat (erstwhile Vatakkumkur - a territory comprising certain parts of present Ernakulam and Kottayam districts) and belongs to Kayastha dynasty and a native of 'caranayudha nasa desa' (Kolimukku in Malayalam). The date of this 'CitraRamayanam' is January 20th 1453 C.E. according to the administrative report of 1944. The date found in the colophone of the text is February 20th 1522 C.E., which is believed to be a later entry. The portion which bears the original entries on the date of composition is however found missing.
CitraRamayana portrays the popular story of Ramayana with native costumes and native adornments. It follows 'Adhyatma Ramayana' and Valmiki Ramayana for picturing the episodes. For distinguishing Rama and LakSmana, the artist adorns the headgear of Rama with peacock feathers. In Ramayana Rama, Sita and LakSmana wear the cloth made of the bark of a tree during their exile. CitraRamayana ignored this aspect and adorn them with royal costumes. Ravana is represented with five heads instead of ten.
In some contexts Ravana is found drawn with single head. In the picture on Rama's crossing of the river Ganges a crocodile is pictured as passing by. The first encounter of Hanuman with Ravana is interesting to note. Hanuman coils his tail to make a seat as high as the throne of Ravana and in other meeting Hanuman is found rubbing his tail against the face of Ravana just to provocate him. In popular legend LakSmana cut off the nose and breast of surppanakha but CitraRamayana depicted the cutting of the nose only.
Like this so many variations in Rama theme exists in this Palmyra leaf pictures. The unknown artist depicted the events covering up to the coronation of Rama. The pen used to figure these pictures is the sharp edge of the iron stile (locally called 'narayam) and certainly it was an earnest attempt to picture the Ramayana episode with local colours.
- Dr. Naduvattom Gopalakrishnan