“How many Ramayanas? Three hundred? Three thousand? At the end of some Ramayanas, a question is sometimes asked: How many Ramayanas have there been? And there are stories that answer the question.” In an essay titled “Three Hundred Ramayanas,” Ramanujan sets out to explore how “hundreds of tellings of a story in different cultures, languages, and religious traditions relate to each other: what gets translated, transplanted, transposed.”
I was reminded of Ramanujan’s essay and the collection, Many Ramayanas (edited by Paula Richman), when I recently learned about the Ramayana being narrated on television. In fact, the Ramayana seems central to programming strategy for NDTV’s new entertainment channel, NDTV Imagine. And according to this story, this new version of the Ramayana has been responsible for boosting ratings and distinguishing NDTV Imagine from other similar “general entertainment” ventures such as Reliance’s Bindass and ZEE’s Zee Next.
This latest telling of the Ramayana is produced by Sagar Arts (established in 1950), the family that first took on the task of figuring out how to narrate a mythology on television. Needless to say, the version that’s on TV now is slicker and producers are making full use of technological advances (videos here).
The last time a Ramayana was aired on TV – on state-regulated Doordarshan – a number of people were concerned that the televised version would come to possess an authority that would be difficult to question. Furthermore, Doordarshan presented the Ramayana as an expression of “national culture,” leading scholars like Romila Thapar to wonder if “other tellings of the Ramayana story might be irretrievably submerged or marginalized” (link). But again, as Richman suggests in the introduction to Many Ramayanas, it might be worth thinking about television’s narration of the Ramayana “not as heralding the demise of other tellings but as affirming the creation of yet another rendition of the Ramayana , the latest product of an ongoing process of telling and retelling the story of Rama.”
And it’s not just TV! Virgin Comics sets Rama in 3392 A.D.
And Nina Paley, of course, gives us a Sitayana!