New Delhi: Narratives of epics change according to the places they have travelled to and different places put different emphasis on various parts of epics like Ramayana, said Paula Richman, William H Danforth professor of South Asian Religions at Oberlin, Ohio. She was speaking on the topic of Crossing Boundaries – Narratives and Persons Who Travel at the South Asian University, New Delhi. The event was chaired by Dr. Kavita A. Sharma, President, South Asian University.

Paula Richman during the talk with Dr. Kavita A. Sharma, President - SAU

Paula Richman during the talk with Dr. Kavita A. Sharma, President – SAU

In her lecture, Richman reflected upon various aspects of crossing boundaries with the help of such narratives delving into the Ramayana tradition in parts of India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia. She discussed, during the course of the lecture, about the Buddhist tradition of Jataka tales across parts of South and South East Asia. She also invoked various forms of engagements across borders over generations involving – merchants, indentured labour, the dollar diaspora, religious messengers, and scholars.

Richman is a popular South Asianist and she received her Ph.D. in South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago and has published two books on Tamil literature: Women, Branch Stories and Religious Rhetoric in a Tamil Buddhist Text and Extraordinary Child: Translations from a Genre of Tamil Devotional Poetry.  She has also edited and contributed to three volumes on the Ramayana:  Many Ramayanas, Questioning Ramayanas; and Ramayana Stories in Modern South India.

While talking about texts that travelled, she talked about different cultures deriving different morals from epics. She noted narratives while travelling across boundaries tend to change their forms and more often than not local context seeps in while being retold. She opined that Ramayan has an underlying theme of temptations and overcoming them with higher knowledge.

Responding to a question about learnings from the epics, she cited an example from Trinidad where the organisers of a Ram Leela decided not to end the saga with the burning of effigies as it might be perceived as justifying violence but rather playing for another night and concluding at the point when Rama comes home and establishes the ideal Ram Rajya.