SINGAPORE — With numerous heroes and villains and its powerful feel-good message of good triumphing over evil, the Ramayana has been one of the great epic poems of Indian culture for centuries. Originally attributed to the Hindu Sanskrit poet Valmiki, who lived about 400 B.C., the story has been retold and adapted over time by poets, scholars and everyday storytellers.
It has also captured the imagination of many other cultures beyond its origins in India. In Southeast Asia, scenes from the Ramayana can be found in places ranging from Prambanan, a 9th-century Hindu temple compound in Yogyakarta in central Java, Indonesia, to the magnificent 12th-century Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
“Ramayana Revisited: A Tale of Love & Adventure,” an exhibition that is running at the Peranakan Museum, Singapore until Aug. 22, underlines the cross-cultural power of the popular epic.
As it spread across Southeast Asia, the Hindu tale was adapted, with localized versions emerging like the Ramakien in Thailand or the Reamker in Cambodia. Through the display of shadow puppets, papier-mâché masks, sculptures and paintings on paper and cloth sourced from the permanent collection of the Asian Civilisations Museum, this exhibition narrates the Ramayana story according to a 17th-century version from north India. The narrators of this version are Lava and Kusha, the two sons of Rama, and it tells the classic tale of their father’s epic quest to rescue their mother, Sita, from the demon king Ravana with the help of Rama’s devoted friend Hanuman and his army of monkeys.
While some of the artifacts that are shown are ancient and quite rare, like a 12th-century bronze Hanuman from the late Chola period in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, or a 12th-to-13th century bas-relief from the state of Madhya Pradesh of a reclining image of Vishnu on cosmic snake, others — especially shadow puppets and masks — are more recent. Some have been commissioned by the museum over the past 15 years.
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