M.A. HISTORY (F)
Ramayana is a very dynamic text. It exists in different cultures, in different forms, echoing different social ethos. Every tale has vivid descriptions of why and under which conditions a particular story or text has been written and these texts are responsive and reflexive to different telling of the story and within the same text, there is an element of self reflection. Thus every tale though being placed at temporally and spatially a mythic time and space, the dynamics they reflect are very contemporary one. I wish to do here, is to compare and contrast two local versions of Ramayana, originated in the regions of Garhwal and Kumaun in the state of Uttrakhand. Here, we must mention that there is nothing called an ‘original text’ and every so called “versions” of a text is in fact an entity in itself. So here we will study these local telling of Ramayana avoiding references to the “Vālmīki Ramayana” and treat them as primary texts.
There are a lot of similarities in the term of structure, folk elements and the content in both the Ramayanas. But still there are some differences that we need to consider. The Kumauni Rāmāyana is a written text, but retains a lot of folk elements which makes it apt for recitation and performance. There are attempts to homogenize the text by introducing some literary devices into the text that are not found in the Garhwali Ramayana which remains a folk performative theatrical rendition of Ramayana even though printed versions of the Garhwali Rāmlīlā is available in Uttrakhand. The story in Kumauni Ramayana is narrated by luv-kush, sons of Rama whereas there is no narrator in the Garhwali Ramayana. While Kumauni Ramayana is written in Kumauni dialect, the Garhwali Ramayana is actually performed in Hindi and is known as Garhwali Ramayana because it is performed in the Garhwal region.
Here in my analysis, I will focus on two aspects of these texts. Firstly, a similarity found in both these texts and which is valid for many such texts- though the narrative is placed at a distant locus of time and space, almost immemorial and fictitious time and space, the ethos and values these telling represent are both contemporary in their feel and rooted in local traditions spatially. Secondly, we will try to understand the difference one finds in a text when it is undergoing a transition from oral telling to be put into writing. The whole argument about orality and textuality becomes very important here because we will see that the Kumauni Ramayana tries to develop itself into a literary text, while retaining the folk elements it possesses. Thus we can place the Kumauni Rāmāyana in a period of transition, from folk to literary written version. This transition has its own dynamics, while on one written text acquires a form which is accessible to a wider audience as well as provide homogeneity to the structure of the text (though there is a whole debate on the fluidity of the oral and written sources, we do find changes in the way both these texts come to us). On other hand, this transition also restricts the “inter-textuality” of the text. It reduces the borrowings of textual material from other sources, in a way, that is possible for folk versions. Written sources also acquire a distinct style, language and even content that differentiates it with the locally rooted (in this context, the Garhwali Rāmāyana) telling. My analysis is based on comparison of two sources- one written version with elements of folk traditions, i.e. Kumauni Rāmāyana and an oral, folk, performative Garhwali Rāmāyana. This analysis and observations are text specific and may not apply to all such textual sources.
First, talking about the similarities, as said earlier, both the versions have certain folk elements, which give it a communal and performative aspect to the telling. So both the texts are composed in a mixed prose-verse style, where verse have diverse functions to play- firstly, it acts as a narrative thread, and helps in effective narration of the story; secondly certain elements that can’t be performed are expressed through verses; thirdly, in terms of communal activity, these verses act as the medium through which a text is remembered through community singing and recitation of verses and fourthly, these verses represents the formulaic elements we find in the folk telling (not necessarily all oral versions). But even here, we find certain differences in the approaches in the Garhwali and Kumauni Rāmāyana, as in the Kumauni Rāmāyana these verses are known as “hudki”, is used for either- for narration of the scene and the details of plots and character, or for expressing the inner psyche of the character- emotions, grieves etc. expressed through verses. On the other hand, the Garhwali Rāmāyana, apart from introducing the narrative and the scene, also use these verses to introduce characters, something that is, not found in the Kumauni telling. The reason for this difference can be ascribed to two factors- the performative aspect of Garhwali Ramayana pertaining to the Rāmlīlā tradition and secondly, the way the Kumauni Rāmāyana has been edited by its compilers/authors. Fancy introductions in the Rāmlīlā enhance the dramatic value of the performance. Also, there is a living tradition of mockery in parts of Uttrakhand, where people are mocked upon in festivals, occasions etc. for their extravagance, dressing styles, food habits etc. in good humor and that practices get reflected in their folk culture as well. The reason why this is not found in the Kumauni Rāmāyana can be seen in the introduction of the Kumauni Rāmāyana- “normally, in Rāmlīlā we find a tendency to mock kings etc for their dressing etc. but such ‘obscenities’ are not to be found here”. This also leads to our second point, that is, how a text is edited and acquires an all new meanings with the additions and deductions of the text.
So Kumauni Rāmāyana, which has some folk elements and which has been derived from folk versions of the Rāmāyana in Kumaun, is compiled not in Uttrakhand but rather in Delhi. Now, when a folk telling is edited to suit the aesthetics of a literary class, it acquires new language, new idioms and new representations. Two simultaneous and mutually contradictory activities are reflected in the Kumauni Rāmāyana. On one side, there has been attempt to reinforce the “pahari” identity and culture through the text and at the same time there has been a thorough editing and interpolations. Editor/compiler of the work attributed to Kundan Singh Manral ‘Pahadi’, himself was not just a passive compiler of the text but also had to make sense of the text in a particular context. The use of language is very significant here. The text is written in Kumauni dialect written in Devanagari script. Though there are attempts to use literary elements into the texts, the expressions used are not literary but more localized expressions and idioms. But conversely, there are some portions in the Kumauni Rāmāyana that seem to make the text a bit esoteric by introducing metaphysics and Upanişadic philosophy in the text perhaps targeting the urban literate class of Kumauni community and individuals in Delhi and in other regions as well, something that is not found in Garhwali Rāmāyana. So the “unsophisticated” material is edited out and new “sophisticated” material is infused in the text. Conversely, in the Garhwali Rāmāyana, there is hardly any metaphysical portion. So a very complicated question asked in this context- is there anything like the “original text” where every retelling of a narrative has its own variants. And can we identify any author of the text. If anyone interpolates and re-interpret the text, will he be considered an author, editor or compiler etc? The transition from folk to literary version not only enhances but sometimes also restricts a text. While the Garhwali Rāmāyana borrows and takes inspiration from various sources from Rāmacharitmānas to even movie songs on some occasions, the nature of the Kumauni Rāmāyana restricts it from using any uncited, unacknowledged references from other sources.
Finally on the question of differences, as said earlier, though telling tale of a time immemorial, gives ethos of the contemporary times it is rooted in. both the text introduce many changes to the text, without altering the main story making the narrative more closer to the culture of the mountains. Apart from the changes in the narrative even the imageries reflected in the text gives you a peek at the culture and lives of the hilly regions. You can’t actually alter the story radically, what is altered are the motivations of the character, and the material culture reflected and additional conversations are added to express the local interpretation and emotions of the text. So, in Garhwali Rāmāyana, the character of Bāņāsur is introduced, who has a very interesting conversation with Rāvaņa during Sīta’s svayamvar where both try to outclass each other, thus exposing Rāvaņa’s weaknesses and ego. Kumauni Rāmāyana humanizes the villainous character of Manthara, by introducing Sumanta as the person responsible for provoking her, who then provoked Kakeyi to ask for boons. But apart from the new changes, there were minor touches in both the texts, which reflect the “pahari” culture even within the framework of Rāmāyana tradition. So in the Kumauni Rāmāyana, the places Rāma visits during the years of exile have been placed in their local regions, and the folk they meet during their visits are introduced as “ghasyaris” (women grass cutters in Uttrakhand) thus localizing the narrative. In the Garhwali Rāmāyana, there are mentions of local products like beet-root, sweet potatoes, pumpkins (associated with the kings, thus localizing the royal culture), tobacco etc. within the framework of the narrative. There is a very significant scene in the Garhwali Rāmāyana, where Kevat the boatman, sings a song craving for tobacco. We have already discussed that even movie songs were incorporated within the text perhaps it fit the situation, also because it was more easily relatable and it helps to make the text rooted in the local culture.
In conclusion, we may point out that different telling of Rāmāyana, apart from being part of a larger narrative tradition can also be seen as standalone texts on their own. This telling reflect their own dynamics, social pattern and cultural peculiarities and are placed in those local traditions as much they are linked to the larger tradition. Also, there has always been a debate related to orality and written sources, but here we must emphasize, that the relation between the two, though sometimes a bit uneasy is far from dichotomous. Both assimilate, overlap and influence each other. And written sources don’t indicate the end of the tradition in oral sphere, though this is also true, that when a folk tradition is written down, it just not indicate change of medium, but also language, audience, context and thus sometimes even content. Thus here the narratives become part of both visual and oral archives. . None of these sources are static but prevalent in textual and performative form in various places, even outside Uttrakhand in Delhi, Ghaziabad etc. In this case texts themselves become an archive itself which needs to be critically analyzed like folklore because they try to construct meaning beyond the cultural context in which the folklore was actually constructed
- Pahadi, kundan singh manral- “Kumauni Rāmāyana”; New Delhi; Takshshila Prakashan; 2007
- Dharwadker, Vinay (ed.) – “The collected essays of A.K. Ramanujan”; New Delhi; oxford university press 1999
- Singh, Dhananjay- “Fables in the Indian narrative tradition”; New Delhi; D.K. print world pvt.ltd.
- Bharucha, Rustom-“Rajasthan: an oral epic”; New Delhi; Penguin Books; 2003
- Ong, Walter J. – “Orality and Literacy”; London and New York; Methuen; 1982
- Lord, Albert B.- “Characteristics of Orality” inA Festschrift for Walter J. Ong, S.J., a special issue ofOral Tradition, vol. 2, no. 1 (1987), pp. 54–72.
 A.k. Ramanujan- “collected essays of A.K. Ramanujan” (1999), pp.7-8
 Roland Barthes, Julia Kristeva etc. worked on the inter-textuality of a text meaning no text is autonomous in itself but produced from other texts. See Dhananjay Singh, “fables in the Indian narrative” (2006), pp.164
 Use of formulas is one of the characteristics of father Ong’s description of “oral epics” though I have expanded the definition to include not just oral but different folk tales as well (written or unwritten). See Walter J. Ong- “Orality and Literacy: Technologizing of the Word” (1982) and Albert B. Lord “Oral Traditions” (1987)
 Linguists like Roland Barthes questions the very assumption of an author as every text derives something from its predecessors, so there is neither original text nor any author. Rustam bharucha also asks this question that who is the author- the one who narrates the story or the one who compiles them. See, Roland Barthes in Dhananjay Singh’s “fables in the Indian narrative” (2006), pp. 164-66 and Rustam bharucha and Komal Kothari, “Rajasthan: an oral epic”