Traces of Two Great Epics:
Ramayana and Mahabharata In Javanese and Malay Literature
This workshop will feature an international pool of scholars from a variety of disciplines, who will address the issue of the indigenisation and hybridisation of Ramayana and Mahabharata over the span of almost 2,000 years in Southeast Asian history.
The two great epics of Hinduism, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, had a huge impact on the whole of the Indian subcontinent and much of the rest of Asia. The development of religion, literature, art, architecture, and theatre within the cultures and civilisations of South and Southeast Asia has been strongly influenced by these two epics. We find renderings and adaptations of core ideas in the Ramayana and Mahabharata in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Today, modern renditions continue to appear widely from literature to comic books, visual art (paintings to cartoons), performance art (shadow puppetry, opera, ballet, dance, drama, film) all over Southeast Asia.
After the Sanskrit epics arrived in the Southeast Asian kingdoms of Sumatra, Java and the Malay Peninsula, Hindu and Buddhist composers employed at the royal courts reworked the core pool of plots, characters, incidents, and motifs into local languages and scriptures. They were reworked in accordance with local myths and rites, through selective acceptance, and in the process bringing added meaning to local cultural-religious world views. Besides court patronage, the epics were brought to life by professional storytellers and puppeteers, as well as in dance performances at the village level. However, what we know of Old-Javanese and Old-Malay literature is now limited due to the organic material onto which the literary works were inscribed, the ancient scripts that were used, coupled with a decline in the appreciation of the Hindu and Buddhist literary genre during the 16th century.
Reworkings of the Ramayana and Mahabharata continued into the Islamic period and were adapted in Java and Malaysia into literary works. Indonesians and Malaysians still delight in these stories rewritten to meet the theological requirements of Islam and the contemporary cultural milieu of the Indo-Malaysian Archipelago. The continuing adaptation from pre-Islamic times until today serves as evidence of the universal, encompassing and not time-bound character of these great Indian epics.
The full program is available at this link.