KING DASHARATHA has a one-night stand with his wife’s clone. Rama ends up marrying his sister Sita, the ‘daughter’ of Ravana. And Hanuman is born to Rama and Sita after they morph into monkeys and mate.
If this Ramayana is more bizarre and confusing than Balaji factory’s K-epics, blame it on imaginative, interpretative Malaysians. But, as scholars point out, Ramalayana is more than just a potboiler — it underscores human failings while experimenting with science fiction.
“Valmiki’s Ramayana entered Malaysia a thousand years ago through a shadow play named Wayang Kulit that Javanese traders brought with them. The Malay version underwent many changes due to local factors, but like the original, they highlight the ideals of righteousness, love, loyalty and selfless devotion,” says Ramayana specialist Nuriah Mohammad.
Mohammad, principal fellow at the National University of Malaysia, was in Guwahati to inaugurate the South East Asia Ramayana Institute.
Malay classical literature swears by Ramayana versions compiled by four Europeans. The one by Dutchman Roord van Eysinge, says Mohammad, has Dasharatha marrying Mandodara, who in Valmiki’s Ramayana is Ravana’s wife.
But Mandodara does not disappoint Ravana and clones self.
Ravana marries the cloned Mandodaki. By some quirk of fate, Dasharatha follows her to Lanka and sleeps with her for a night to eventually sire Sita.
“As scholars, we cannot ignore the marital relationship between siblings just as we cannot help marvel at cloning having been conceptualized centuries before Dolly the sheep,” says Mohammad.
Malay Ramayana variants also narrate how Rama and Sita, during their exile, turn into monkeys after frolicking in a magic pond. The ‘primate’ Sita conceives Hanuman, but is made to vomit the foetus out after they turn into humans again.
A fish swallows the foetus to become Hanuman’s surrogate mother.
“Call it aberration or modification of a Hindu mythology according to local requirements, Hikayat Seri Rama or Malaysian Ramayana shows Islam can be accommodative,” says Ghazali Basri, who teaches philosophy and religion at the Brunei Islamic University.
According to Basri, the human values and ideals of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana appeal more to Muslim Malays than their divinity. “Maybe, there’s a lesson for India where Rama is sometimes caught in a religious divide,” he says.