South Asian 1A
South Asian 1A
The complexities of religion verses culture have been debated throughout the ages. Having such a diverse religious population, India has seen many arguments, debates, and parliaments questioning originality of the religions, the origins, traditions, similarities and most of all the differences of South Asian people. In his essay, “Three Hundred Ramayanas”, AK Ramanujan explores the vast range of Ramayana tradition in South Asia. He argues that there is not one Ramayana, but a myriad throughout South Asia. Despite counterarguments by other scholars, Ramanujan’s essay reveals how diverse India is in its traditions and the fact that argument sparked over his piece of work exhibits this. Although these religions are geographically and somewhat culturally related through language, customs and heritage, these religions have grown to become unique and separate in their own spheres. To unify or clump them together as one would lead to confusion and mystification. The religions and traditions of South Asia cannot be categorized under the pretext of having the same beliefs and practices. Each religion and tradition, be it Sikh, Sufi (Islamic Mysticism), Hindu, Buddhist or Jain, has similar thematic elements, which when studied in greater detail allow us to differentiate the slighter details between them. Before looking at how religions have a common underlying theme, we must first examine religions that think their belief system only belongs to them. For this we look at Ramanujan’s essay, “Three Hundred Ramayanas,” which has caused considerable controversy in recent years. In his essay, Ramanujan offers a large number of tellings of Rama (an important Hindu God) in accordance with how different cultures or religions tell the story. For example, one of the more prominent tellings of the story, written by Valmiki in Sanskrit, the God Indra seduces a willing Ahalya and loses his testicles when Gautam, Ahalya’s husband, who is a powerful sage, curses Indra. In Kampan’s telling (which is written in Tamil), Ahalya “realizes she is doing wrong but cannot let go of the forbidden joy” (openthemagazine.com). This clearly shows that different religions and cultures have adapted the story to reflect their own views and while each is told slightly different, they all have a similar underlying theme. A few years back, several right-wing Hindu groups protested the inclusion of the essay “Three Hundred Ramayanas” in the history curriculum at Delhi University. The primary group in these protests, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), called the essay “blasphemous and hurtful of sentiments of Hindus” because it offended their beliefs of the life of Rama (post.jagran.com). Members of this group vandalized the history department at Delhi University in protest. There has been widespread dismay at the decision to remove this scholarly text, which many believe gives an academic perspective on the Ramayana. India, which is supposed to be secular country, seems to be caving into pressure from conservative hardliners. In this example here, the Hindus believe that their version of Ramayana is correct and there should be no other way. What they fail to realize is that the other versions differ because of ethnic and religious influences. Many of the world’s major religions, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism all originate from India. Islam, practiced originally in the Middle East, is the second largest religion in India. All of these religions have a certain relationship between them even while they are a separate and unique order. For example, in order to understand the relationships between the Vedas, which are large bodies of ancient, sacred texts written in Sanskrit unique to Hinduism, Hindu deities, and the complex concepts of Hinduism such as Atman (soul) or Brahman (bliss), a thorough understanding of each is required. Once the theological aspects of the ancient...
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