The Ramayana is an immortal epic, a "Mahakavya" in its true sense. Its greatness is indicated in the epic itself thus:

As long as the mountain ranges stand
and rivers flow on Earth
So long will this Ramayana
Survive upon the lips of men

The influence of the theme is reflected in the various forms of dance dramas and shadow plays in South Asia. The story of Rama seems to have bewitched and hypnotised generations of Asians belonging to countries with religious, literary and cultural traditions.

The Ramayana is performed in most countries having the Ramayana tradition. The performing tradition of the Ramayana has manifested itself in a great range and variety of forms, having regional and stylistic variations from the dramatic recitation of the epic story with simple mime to the highly stylised and codified forms of dance and theatre and several forms of the puppet theatre – the processional and ritualistic "Ramlila" of North India and in the highly stylised and codified dance theatre "Kathakali" of Kerala; in the highly theatrical "Khon" mask plays of Thailand and in the extremely lyrical dance drama of Bali and the "Wayang Kulit", the puppet theatre of Indonesia and Malaysia.

While the Ramayana theatre is an integral part of the colourful and multiform traditional theatre of Asia, it is distinguished by many technical features. It is the most representative and artistically rich sector of the traditional theatre often adding a new dimension to the epic story and giving new interpretations to the characters. The epic story with its legendary and mythical motives, eminently suits the stylised and convention-based traditional theatre of Asian countries.

In the Ramayana tradition, the idea of struggle between the forces of good and evil is so basic that it greatly influences the structure and nature of theatrical forms of various types. This idea of struggle is maintained and conveyed through a structuring of the form, peculiar to the Ramayana Theatre. The general pattern is that in the first stage there is confrontation between the two forces; in the second stage, challenge; in the third, conflict and combat; and in the fourth, the victory of the good forces and defeat of the evil forces. This pattern is followed in a variety of forms of theatre dealing with the Ramayana theme. It is to highlight this idea of a spiritual conflict that in almost all the forms of the Ramayana theatre, combat scenes dominate the performance, and are the most important and dramatic. In many cases, these are also most beautifully choreographed. The performers as well as the audience take great delight in these scenes and get a kind of spiritual satisfaction in witnessing the defeat of the evil characters. In India, the burning of huge effigies of Ravana and his allies on the day of the enactment of the battle between Rama and Ravana is a grand ritualisation of this theme of the struggle between good and evil. In the ‘Wayang Kulit’ of Indonesia, the Dalang introduces the principal characters and suggests the beginning of the plot, a fight between good and evil forces is the climax scene. At the end, good triumphs over evil.

To be continued

Note: The author of this section on World music is none other than the expert Ethnomusicologist, Dr. S A K Durga. For any doubts and queries on this subject, please mail her.

Back to World music

Fusion home

Hindustani music

Javanese Gamelan

Western music


themehome.jpg (1315 bytes)