Language, Memory And The Vernacular: The Power Of The Ramacaritmanas In India’s Epic Culture
What happens when a vernacular literature represents a ‘Great Tradition’ in a different time in history? Does it signal the end of a great tradition, or an extension, proliferation of that tradition? Take for example, the case of the Indian epic, the Ramayana. Composed about three thousand years ago in Sanskrit the lure of this royal story hardly requires an introduction: the story of Prince Rama, the protagonist of the epic, replicated in hundreds of languages, the vernaculars of India and beyond over the last two millennia. One such Ramayana is in Awadhi (a variation of Hindi), the Ramcaritmanas, arguably the most popular among all other versions of the story. This essay attempts to discuss the grammar of genealogy, the structure of the narrative and the power of the story in the vernacular. Is it the vernacular, like Awadhi, which has turned the story into the proverbial narrative of the houses of millions of Indians? Or, is it the majesty of the story of Rama itself, which makes the Ramcaritmanas so popular? The essay argues that power of the vernacular works at three levels: the nature of language, the memory or the structure of the story and the felicity of the medium; the connecting thread at these levels I argue is the tradition of storytelling.
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