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HVK Archives: Ramayana in the North-East

Ramayana in the North-East - Organiser

Jyoti Lal Chowdhury ()
October 4, 1998

Title: Ramayana in the North-East
Author: Jyoti Lal Chowdhury
Publication: Organiser
Date: October 4, 1998

Oral tradition of the story of Rama existed in the form of Kesar
Saga in the Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh. The Ramayana
values inspired the people and the kings of Assam not only of
the indigenous Asura and Salastambha dynasties but the kings of
the subsequent Ahom dynasties as well who belonged to the Tai-
Ahom ethnic group, which had come from Naga region through the
north-eastern passes of the Himalayas. The Pawi (Chin) Mizos
were heroes of the Kaurukshetra war, who had fought under
Bhagadatta, the Asura king of North-East India, against the
Pandavas. The Vasishtha ashram near Guwahati and the
Parusuramkunda in Arunachal Pradesh are the place-names
associated with the sages and saints of the Ramayana. A Manipuri
scholar named Angom Gopi, who had adorned the court of king
Garib Niwaz (in the 18th century), gave a comprehensive Manipur
version of the Ramayana. The vanvasi chiefs patronised
propagation of the Ramayana in the north-east.

For the audience-packed district library auditorium in Silchar,
it was exploration of the unexplored. The occasion was National
Seminar on the Ramayana in the North-East, organised by the
Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Samiti, South Assam, on August 30 and
31, in which eminent scholars took part.

Explaining the objective of the seminar, Dr Sujit Kumar Ghosh,
General Secretary of the Samiti, said that the people of the
north-east India at different stages of their socio-cultural and
historical development had come in contact with the Ramayana and
adopted it. He further added that although among different
ethnic groups of the north-east India this text survived mostly
in the oral form, the objective of the seminar was to bring
people together and help them discover their roots and feel at
home with others in the country.

Shri P.K. Barthakur, IAS, Deputy Commissioner of Cachar,
initiating the discussion on the great epic said that the
Ramayana had its impact beyond the boundary of Hinduism. He
pointed out that the earliest translations of the epic in
Assamese were done by Madhab Kandali and Ananta Kandali in the
14th century. They were in five parts, he revealed. Later on
Shankar Dev and Madhab Dev added two more parts, making it

Shri Thakur Ramsingh, All India President of the Samiti,
outlining the objective of the Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Samiti
said: "History of our country needs to be rewritten in view of
gross distortions." He referred to Cambridge History of India
and Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan's exercises in this direction and
called them "imperfect". Foreign invasions and British
domination of the country, he explained, had not only destroyed
valuable records and books but also garbled facts.

He disclosed how invaders had set on fire libraries of Nalanda,
Vikramshila and Ujjain universities. He admitted: "Rewriting
history is not an easy effort and needs a lot of manpower and
collection of materials." More important, he pointed out, true
history of our country can only be written with Indian ideology
inspired by the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas, the
Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Gita, as was first spoken of
by Swami Vivekananda at his Chicago address. The Samiti through
its units spread across the country has taken up this
challenging task Shri Ramsingh informed.

Shri Thaneswar Boro, Minister of Higher Education of Assam, who
had inaugurated the seminar by lighting the lamp, spoke at
length about the human and spiritual values of the Ramayana in
keeping the country united. He admitted how the spread of
Christianity in the north-east had disturbed the culture and
traditions of the vanvasis. He said that the Ojas of Assam
performed song on subjects from the Ramayana and the
Mahabharata. Madhab Kandali, he added, wrote the Assamese
version of the Ramayana at the behest of a king of Barahis, a
branch of Kachari vanvasis of the 14th century.

Shri Kabindra Purkayastha, Minister of State for Communications,
said that the classic work of Valmiki continued to stir the
hearts of people of the north-east. The ideals and principles of
the Ramayana, he pointed out, cannot but influence even those
vanvasis who might have been cut off from their roots. "The
Ramayana is a link in the chain of diverse cultures and faiths",
he emphasised.

Shri Balaram Chakraborty, educationist and author on cross
cultural studies from Calcutta, the keynote speaker at the
seminar, spoke on the various forms of the lore of Rama and the
places in the north-east where they have been recited. and
propagated and prevailed among people for generations. People of
the north-east, who have embraced Christianity, he pointed out,
are divested of their rich Ramayana heritage.

Technical session bringing in its ambit the oral tradition of
the Ramayana in the north-east, translation of the Ramayana in
different languages of the north-east, and Ramayana's relevance
to the cultural life of people of the region were made lively by
thought-provoking views of scholars.

Papers on the impact of the Ramayana on Khasi people by Prof
Sylvanus Lamari, the Ramayana and the tradition of Dikk by Prof
Caroline R. Marak, the Karbi Ramayan by Prof Dipankar Banerjee,
the impact of Ramayana on Mizos by Prof Sangkima, Ramayana
literature in Manipur by Prof Manihar Singh, Ramayana tradition
and Tripura by Dr Sitanath Dey and the Assamese Ramayana of
Madhab Kandali by Shri Kanak Chandra Sharrna, (retd) Deputy
Commissioner of Guwahati, gave enough food of thought to the
inquisitive and anxious audience.

Summing up the seminar, Dr. Jayanta Bhushan Bhattacharjee, Vice-
Chancellor, of Assam University, brought out the universal
appeal of the epic when he announced, "even in remote villages
of Meghalaya, parents have been found naming their sons and
daughters as Ram, Balram, Sita".

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