[Caribbean Literature]

Divina Trace and Polyrhythm

The Ramayana: Rama, Sita, and Hanuman

David P. Lichtenstein '99, Brown University, Contributing Editor, Caribbean Web

The chapter "Magdalena Tells Her Story" of Divina Trace really focuses not on Magdalena, but on a retelling of the Ramayana, the story of Rama and Sita, and Rama's loyal Monkey Prince, Hanuman. Antoni seems here to be trying to root Magdalena's history in that of Indian divinity (among other roots), which would play a powerful role in traditions of an island such as Trinidad, which has long been composed of a large population of Indians. In the next chapter, "Hanuman Speaks of the Monkey Tribes", Hanuman speaks in a monkey language which Antoni invented, of a variety of topics including the Ramayana, the birth of the frogchild, and even the interaction between storyteller and audience.

These excerpts from the Encyclopedia Britannica Online should provide some background information on the stories behind the characters of Hanuman, Rama, and Sita. Despite his appropriation of these stories and retelling in Caribbean dialects, Antoni has remained fairly faithful to the original stories. One wonders what his purpose was in reproducing these particular stories, in locating Magdalena's roots in this myth?

in Hindu mythology, the divine monkey chief, a central figure in the great Hindu epic the Ramayana ("Romance of Rama"). Hanuman is the child of a nymph by the wind god; accompanied by a host of monkeys, he aided Rama in recovering his wife, Sita, from the demon Ravana. His heroic exploits are many. He acted as Rama's spy in the midst of the demon's kingdom; when he was discovered and his tail set on fire, he burnt down their city, Lanka. Hanuman flew to the Himalayas and carried back the mountain of medicinal herbs to restore the wounded among Rama's army. He crossed the strait between India and Sri Lanka in one leap.
A beneficent guardian spirit, he is worshiped in the form of a monkey with a red face, who stands erect like a human. Temples in his honour are numerous. In his devotion to Rama, Hanuman is upheld as a model for human devotion to god, an attitude beautifully depicted by South Indian bronze sculptors.
one of the most widely worshipped Hindu deities, the embodiment of chivalry and virtue. Although there are three Ramas mentioned in Indian tradition (Parashurama, Balarama, and Ramacandra), the name is specifically associated with Ramacandra, the seventh incarnation (avatara) of Lord Vishnu (Visnu). It is possible that Rama was an actual historical figure, a tribal hero of ancient India who was later deified. His story is told briefly in the Mahabharata ("Great Epic of the Bharata Dynasty") and at great length in the Ramayana (q.v.; "Romance of Rama").
Rama and Krishna (also an incarnation of Vishnu) were the two most popular recipients of adoration from the bhakti (devotional) cults that swept the country during that time. Whereas Krishna is adored for his mischievous pranks and amorous dalliances, Rama is conceived as a model of reason, right action, and desirable virtues. Temples to Rama faced by shrines to his monkey devotee Hanuman are widespread throughout India. Rama's name is a popular form of greeting among friends ("Ram! Ram!"), and Rama is the deity most invoked at death.
In sculpture, Rama is represented as a standing figure, holding an arrow in his right hand and a bow in his left. His image in a shrine or temple is almost invariably attended by figures of his wife Sita, his favourite half-brother Laksmana, and his monkey devotee Hanuman.
(Sanskrit: "Furrow"), also called JANAKI, in Hindu mythology, the consort of Rama and the embodiment of wifely devotion and self-surrender. Her abduction by the demon king Ravana and subsequent rescue are the central incidents in the great Hindu epic Ramayana ("Romance of Rama"). Sita was raised by King Janaka; she was not his natural daughter but sprang from a furrow when he was ploughing his field. Rama won her as his bride by bending Shiva's bow, and she accompanied her husband when he went into exile. Though carried away to Lanka by Ravana, she kept herself chaste by concentrating her heart on Rama throughout her long imprisonment. On her return she asserted her purity and also proved it by voluntarily undergoing an ordeal by fire. Rama, however, banished her to the forest in deference to public opinion. There she gave birth to their two children, Kusha and Lava. After they reached maturity and were acknowledged by Rama to be his sons, she called upon her mother, Earth, to swallow her up.

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