The University of Pennsylvania Summer Institute 2007: "The Arts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East: An Exploration of Art, Music and Film"


Diane C. Freedman

Community College of Philadelphia

Department of Social Science


The Ramayana Through the Arts


Anthropology 112: Cultural Anthropology

Anthropology 202: Gender Roles in Cross Cultural Perspective

Anthropology 215: Peoples and Cultures of Asia



This project builds on the presentations of Ramya Ramnarayan, Allyn Miner, Manail Ahmed, and Sheetal Majithia on South Asian arts.  The goal is to introduce students to the great Indian epic Ramayana in its diversity, through readings as well as images, music, and dance and theatrical presentations. 


Specific learning goals vary for each course. For the introductory Cultural Anthropology course, students should be able to situate the Ramayana story among other great origin myths of the world and understand how its tradition lives on today and shapes artistic performance.  In the gender course the focus is on the relationship between Rama and Sita and the question of Sita’s life as a role model for modern women.  In the course focusing on Asia the emphasis of this unit will be the concept of dharma and the contrast with the core value of individualism of our society.  This unit will take 1-2 weeks in each course.


To interest students in the Ramayana epic they will first view the animated video clip by Nina Paley from Sitayana, the Trial by Fire episode. It introduces the three major characters, Sita, Rama and Hanuman.  Found on the web here:


Sitayana: Trial by Fire


After viewing this short video students will be asked to generate questions about the three major characters. The character of Hanuman can appeal to students of all ages. This short clip brings up the themes of love, desire, longing and jealousy that humanize the epic for western readers. Once introduced to some of these themes, students will read short portions of the epic that focus on the marriage of Rama and Sita, their banishment to the forest, Ravana kidnapping Sita, the battle for Lanka, and Sita’s vindication by fire.  One source for this reading is here:


Ramayana Summary


Students will browse the Ramayana images available at the British Library and focus on a few for discussion:


Rama bends Siva's bow


Rama kills Ravana


Vindication of Sita:


Other image resources from the Goldmans’ translation project can be found here:


They will also look at some of the short Ramayana dance clips available on the web:


In class, students will view part of the video, Great Tales In Asian Art, 1995, with a short telling of the Ramayana.


After doing the readings and image work on their own, students will discuss their findings in class.

Class discussions will revolve around the following issues:


What are the regional aesthetic variations in Ramayana images or performance?

What is the influence of modernization on iconography and performance?

How are gender roles depicted in the visual arts or performance?  Do these conform or conflict with the Valmiki text?


Assessment: Students will use the listed resources to develop a research paper connecting one theme in the Ramayana and an aesthetic representation of it.  They will analyze both in terms of how the theme can relate to an issue relevant to the modern world.  For example, one question to explore might be how the reverence for Sita as ideal wife is related to today’s practice of satipuja, discussed in the article by Anne Hardgrove listed below.


Web Resources


Ramayana in Odissi dance


Swami Satyananda Saraswati telling of Sita kidnapped by Ravana


Cambodian version:


Ramayana - Prince of Light


The Kelantan Wayang Siam Shadow Puppets 'Rama' and 'Hanuman': A Comparative Study of Their Structure
Jeune Scott-Kemball
Man, Vol. 59, May, 1959 (May, 1959), pp. 73-78



Sati Worship and Marwari Public Identity in India
Anne Hardgrove
The Journal of Asian Studies > Vol. 58, No. 3 (Aug., 1999), pp. 723-752

Stable URL:


The Valmiki Ramayana Translation Project, Robert and Sally Goldman –with lots of Teacher Materials

The Ramayana--South Asia Center, Syracuse University

Text Resources


Blackburn, Stuart H. 1996.  Inside the Drama-House: Rama Stories and Shadow Puppets in South India. University of California Press; ISBN: 0520202066


Dehejia, Vidya. 1997. Indian Art.  Phaidon Press.


Goldman Robert P.  1990. The Ramayana of Valmiki: An Epic of Ancient India, Volume 1: Balakanda.

Princeton University Press.


Kam, Garrett. 2000. Ramayana in the Arts of Asia. Select Books


Richman, Paula.  1991.  Many Ramayanas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia.  Univ California Press.


Welch, Stuart Cary: India, Art & Culture, 1300-1900. 1985.  Metropolitan Museum of Art


Williams, Joanna. 1996.  The Two-Headed Deer: Illustrations of the Ramayana in Orissa. University of California Press


Video Resources


Great Tales In Asian Art 1995. Studio: Kultur, Release Date: 2/28/2006, Length: 82 mins.  Order and more info here: