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Ramayana Trail across the World – Chinese Ramayana

Buddhists took Ramayana to China in the first century AD. The names are distorted as Lomo (Rama), Poloto (Bharata), Loman (Lakshman),Naloyen (Narayan). The Pali Tripitaka was rendered in Chinese and compiled in the name of Taisho edition. Dasaratha Jataka and Story of Unnamed king were translated in 472 and 251 AD. Ravana was described as a wicked Naga King. Dasaratha Jataka has a verbatim Pali translation of Valmiki’s Sanskrit sloka!

Buddhists tried to enlist the national hero of India Rama on their side by transcribing his legend into their own in the Dasaratha Jataka.

Various Jataka stories of Rama was popular in China, the earliest known telling of Ramayana was found in Buddhist text, Liudu ji Jing. The impact of Ramayana on Chinese society is evident from the popular folklore of Sun Wukong, a Mokey King, who is similar to Hanuman from Ramayana.

In China, a large collection of Jatak stories related to various events of Ramayana, which date back to 251 A.D, were compiled by Kang Seng Hua. Another book from 742 AD, which relates the story of plight of Dasratha after Rama, was ordered to go for Vanvasa is still present in China. Similarly, in 1600 AD, His-Yii-Chii wrote a novel called Kapi (monkey) which elaborated on the stories of Ramayana, predominantly that of Hanuman.

Early Ramayana in China

In China, the earliest known telling of Ramayana is found in the Buddhist text, Liudu ji jing. Significantly, and unlike in Japan, the impact of Ramayana on Chinese society arguably was responsible for the creation of a popular fictional monkey king’s character, Sun Wukong (Hanuman), in a sixteenth century novel Xiyou ji.

We also find characters with the names of Dasharatha, Rama and Lakshmana in a fifth century Chinese text, Shishewang yuan. The Dai ethnic group of south-western Yunnan province also know the story as Lanka Xihe (Ten heads of Lanka). The epic also spread to Tibet and Mongolia through Buddhism, with a notable variant being that it is Bharata, and not Lakshmana, who accompanies Rama in exile.

The epic finds mention in Malay Peninsula in the form of Hikayat Maharaja Wana and Hikayat Seri Rama, composed in late 16th century. In these, the most interesting variant is the relationship between Maharaja Wana (Ravana) and Siti Dewi (Sita), who are biological father and daughter. Furthermore, Hanuman Kera Putih (Hanuman) is also depicted as the son of Seri Rama (Rama), born to him in his former life as Dewa Berembun (Lord Vishnu).

Malays also believe that Hanuman built the causeway to Langkapuri (Lanka) single-handedly and managed to dissuade the fish princess, Puteri Ikan, from destroying it by marrying her. Interestingly, Hanuman’s marriage with the mermaid also finds mention in the Thai and Khmer variants of the epic.

As for its influence in China, most scholars in the past asserted that the Ramayana had not been translated into Chinese, implying that its influence was not vast, at least on the Han nationality. Actually, this is not true. Recently, some scholars, those who have been doing research on the literature of the ethnic minorities in the  province of Yunnan in particular, have carried out some penetrating studies on this issue and obtained gratifying results. There is also some date on the condition and influence of the dissemination of the Ramayana in China.

Ji Xianlin compares various versions of the Ramayana with the Sanskrit original by briefly mentioning the plot of the story of Rama. Ravana, the ten-headed king of the Raksasas, is a bully of both men and gods.

The God Visnu transforms himself into four bodies, descends on earth in the form of the four sons of Dasaratha. Kausalya, the first queen, gives birth to Rama. The second queen imposes on him to send Rama into exile for 14 years and appoint her own son Bharata as the crown prince. Rama, Sita and Laksmana obey the king and live in exile in the wild forest.

Indeed, the Buddhist monks who translated Buddhist scriptures into Chinese in ancient China, including Chinese, ethnic minorities and Indians, were familiar with the Ramayana. Nevertheless, since it probably had nothing to do with the dissemination of Buddhism, they only translated the story or mentioned its name in their translation of the scriptures, without rendering the whole epic into Chinese.

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How Chinese Ramayna Developed

According to research papers in Jawaharlal Nehru University: The dissemination of the epic occurred at the same time as the eastward spread of Hinduism and Buddhism. Three Jataka stories—King Dasharatha, Monkey King, and Shambuka—are the earliest and most conclusive texts of dissemination of the Ramayana to China.

All narrate Ramayana, but in a Buddhist setting; tweaking with the characters, while time and place have certain digressions. The first story is exactly the same except for the 14-year exile of Ram. The second story has more variations such as Ram is Bodhisattva, who upon losing his kingdom to his evil uncle, retreated to the forests with his queen; Ravan is replaced by a sea dragon who abducts the queen; Sugrib is depicted as a doleful monkey who was also robbed of his kingdom by his uncle; Ashok Vatika is replaced by the dragon’s cave, etc.

The translation goes back to the 3rd, 5th and 6th centuries. One of the tallest Indologists of China, Professor Ji Xianlin, has done an in-depth study on the digressions from original Ramayana in Buddhist translations.

The earliest Chinese scholar, who carried out the most systematic exposition of the relation between the Chinese translation of Buddhist texts and the Ramayana, is Jin Kemu. According to him, Collection of Writings About the Six Paramitas, Volume 5, translated during the Three Kingdoms (Wu state, 3rd century AD) tells the story of the Monkey King; the same text contains another story titled the Shambuka Jataka, which talks about the antecedent reason for Ram’s father punishing his son (who killed Shambuka), however it does not reveal the result, and the name of the kingdom is not correct either; during the Liang and Chen dynasties (6th century AD), the Biography of Vasubandhu, translated to Chinese by an Indian monk Paramartha, refers to how a person mistakenly recited the Legend of Ram instead of the sutra. Buddhacarita translated during the Northern Liang (5th century), and Mahavibhasa Sutra (volume 46) translated by Xuanzang during the Tang Dynasty (7th century) also have references to Ramayana. Xuanzang’s The Great Tang Dynasty Record of the Western Regions also mentions stories from Ramayana in the Kingdom of Peshawar and Kingdom of Pushkarvati sections.

The Lankavatara Sutra also deals with Ram and his enemies. These translations were prevalent mostly among various polities of the present-day Xinjiang and highly defragmented polities ruled by the Han Chinese—the route obviously was the Central Asian route.

As regards the dissemination of the epics to Southeast Asian countries, Chinese sources often refer to a 6th century AD stone tablet found in Cambodia that mentions of the Mahabharata. After 9th century AD, countries like Thailand, Myanmar, Java, Malay etc., had already begun translating the Ramayana in their native languages, one after the other.

From Thailand and Myanmar, it quickly reached south and southwest China. It could have also travelled through the Assam-Burma-Yunnan route, which was one of the most important routes between India and China, even older than the Central Asian route. The Dai nationality of China, perhaps, was the first to assimilate Ramayana (Lang ka sip ho and Ta Lamma versions in Dai) in its folk tradition with almost a similar line of characters.

In the words of Ji Xianlin, “The 22 sections of the Lang ka sip ho, can be divided by contents into five sections. The main plot of the first four parts is basically similar; the fifth part narrates how Tsau Lamma (Dashratha) chose a queen for his son and fought with Mangkosol. Finally, the two polities forge an alliance and Tsau Lamma gave up the throne for his son Loma (Ram). This episode is mostly a creation of the Dai with stark variation.

For example, in the Lang ka sip ho, Nangsida (Sita) is said to be the daughter of Dasaratha, and is thrown into a river by him. Tsau Lamma left home secretly, not because of court intrigues and exile. In the Xishuangbanna version of the Lang ka sip ho, the aunt of Ravana, not Mareech changes into a golden deer to lure Tsau Lamma. Another digression is that the mother of the ten-headed king was a widow.

After harming the Nangsida, the ten-headed king put her and his wife together on a raft and let it drift away in the ocean. The waves turned the raft over and pushed it to the shore; the wife came ashore and cursed the ten-headed king every day. Later the wife married a monkey and gave birth to two sons, one of whom was Anuman, who avenged his mother by killing her enemies.

Names of the places have been localized, that is to say, names from Yunnan. For example, Anuman threw the Fairy Grass Mountain from heaven into the Dai region of Yunnan. The war between Tsau Lamma and Mangkosol is also fought in the Dai region of Yunnan.”

The Mongol version is mostly similar to the Tibetan version as it was disseminated from Tibet. The Khotanese version of present day Xinjiang, presents Ravana begging for amnesty and agreeing to be Ram’s subject. When Ramayana was disseminated to China, different nationalities like the Han, Dai, Tibetan, Mongol etc., made use of it to serve their different political needs.

The Hans used it to propagate Buddhism, and often emphasised on morality, loyalty and filial piety. The Dai used it to praise the feudal lord system and to sing praises of Buddhism. Tibetans used the Golden Age of Rama to praise local governors.

A direct translation of the two epics into Chinese is something that happened only in recent years. Mi Wenkai’s translation is perhaps the first when he rendered the epics in prose in 1950. In 1962, Sun Yong also translated both the epics, however, these were translated from English versions.

Ji Xianlin became the first Chinese scholar to translate Ramayana from Sanskrit into Chinese during the height of the Cultural Revolution, risking his life. It took him almost a decade to render this gargantuan epic with 200,000 odes and nearly 90,000 lines in 8 volumes published in 1984.

Since then, many Chinese scholars have ventured into Ramayana studies. Recognising Professor Ji’s contribution to Indology, Government of India, awarded him Padma Bhushan in 2008.

Since Buddhism and Hinduism are born of the same roots, therefore, their influence on each other is inevitable. No wonder, contents related to the two epics, especially the Ramayana have been discovered in numerous Chinese translations of Buddhist texts.

Use of Chinese Ramayana in Modern days

Students at universities in China are getting lessons on human values from the great Hindu epic – Ramayana.

Wise sayings from Valmiki’s text are being adapted by the universities teaching Hindi in China and are being made relevant to the current world situations. At least six leading universities in China including the prestigious Peking University, the Beijing Foreign Studies University as well as colleges in different parts of China are teaching Hindi, which has become a popular foreign language in China.

“We are taught verses from Ramayana as part of literature classes at the university,” said Eric Huidram, a student-turned Chinese translator and interpreter from Manipur.

Several universities in the US have included reading the Ramayana as part of comparative humanities and literature sessions on Asia.

It was through the efforts of Chinese Indologist Ji Xianlin that many Chinese learned the language of Sanskrit and the epic Ramayana. Ji, who founded the Department of Eastern Languages at Peking University, translated Ramayana from the original Sanskrit to Chinese in poetry form. Ji’s translated work of Ramayana and Mahabharata will be displayed at the culture park being planned at Kailash Mansarovar by India China Economic and Cultural Council (ICEC).

“The Chinese version of Ramayana will be kept in a library at the park for visitors and researchers to read. We will also run it in the in-house television at the culture park,” said Jagat Shah, convenor, Kailash Mansarovar Cultural Park and chairman, ICEC-Gujarat. The project is being handled by Shah from his office in Ahmedabad.

Besides a library, the cultural park will have a museum, a research lab for studying the geographic impacts, and the changes that have occurred in Kailash Mansarovar over a period of time, a language center to learn about and share different cultures and religions, and information center.

At a recent summit to discuss logistics of the park, ICEC also invited people who have already visited Kailash Mansarovar to understand the journey from the pilgrims’ point of view.



Post By Shweta