The Ramayana: Myth, Morality, and Conflict
An ancient epic and foundational text for a great variety of peoples, the Ramayana has had a lasting influence on everything from popular art to classical South Asian thought to contemporary Hindu politics. The Ramayana tells the sweeping story of the exile and return of the ruler Rama from the kingdom of Ayodhya. Rama’s adventures—including the abduction of his wife Sita by the demonic Ravana and the ensuing war to rescue her—become the ground for running debate over perennial questions of action, duty, individuality, violence, and moral philosophy. Why should one accept Rama as the “exemplar” of a perfect ruler or man? What connects—and divides—the human from the animal or the divine? How are we to balance duty and individuality? In a world on the cusp of collapse, what does dharma, or “right action,” mean, and for whom?
In treating these questions, we’ll read the “classic” Ramayana, authored by the poet Valmiki. While reading Valmiki’s text, we’ll pay particular attention to the question of the “many Ramayanas”—that is, the tale’s many retellings by a diverse array of peoples: Buddhists, Jainists, South Indians, Sikhs, and Nepalese. How, in the hands of non-dominant populations, does the Ramayana challenge Hindutwa assumptions and assertions about the contested legacies of India’s pre-colonial past? How does the Ramayana figure in and shape the social and political imaginations of South Asians today?
Course ScheduleWednesday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
October 18 — November 08, 2023