8 August 2013
The spicy story of an Ind(ones)ian epic
Once upon a time, in a faraway land,... okay let’s get to it, because there are some juicy details coming along. But before that, let me give you some brief context: the Ramayana is a famous Indian epic dating back to the fourth century BC, other southeast Asian countries having adapted it to their own cultures. I won’t bore you with the 24,000 verses but I’ll twist the story (more than) a bit with my own words. In case you find my style inappropriate, well... tough luck :) – you’ll hopefully at least enjoy my pictures of the Ramayana ballet at Prambanan temple, located just next to Yogyakarta, probably one of the best shows I have seen across Indonesia, with the Legong dance of Ubud in Bali a distant second. So here goes “my” story of the Ramayana:
Rama’s wife, Sita, is a (hot chick) pretty lady. King Ravana is a bad boy and he obviously wants to steal her from Rama. Who will win? Ah ha, read on – well, only read on if you are not too disconcerted with my weird second-degree humour.
Are women attracted to shiny things? Let’s see. Comes along a golden deer. Anyone with any senses would logically have guessed something was fishy – if I so may say – with that deer. Well, it seems Sita is pretty but not that smart. And Rama neither, since, upon her request, he starts chasing the deer, leaving his wife with his brother, Lakshmana (hmm, I won’t start speculating on what happens when a brother is left alone with his goddess-like sister-in-law...).
When shot, the deer transforms itself back into one of Ravana’s henchmen. Does Rama hurry up to make sure his wife is alright? Nope. He pursues the henchman, and his brother joins him too after having left Sita with highly efficient protection means: a magic circle drawn around her. Yep, right, as if.
Red-faced Ravana is less superstitious – I’m starting to like this guy (we’re not supposed to, though) – and tries to snatch her, but it turns out her circle does protect her. WTF who would have guessed? Perhaps some strange chemical reaction from the abundance of sulfur in Indonesia? Anyway, Ravana goes to the nearby prank store and comes back disguised as an old man begging for water. You guessed it, Sita steps out of her circle to help the fake beggar and gets immediately captured. Oh Sita, what will we do with you…
A big bird – if one accepts the concept of a golden deer, then the big talking bird should be as easy to accept – finds it suspicious that the bad boy, Ravana, hangs out with the pretty woman, but is rapidly beaten up, left alone to die in its blood. Way to go, Ravana. What a coincidence: Rama and his bro turn up and manage to catch the bird’s last breath, informing them of Sita’s kidnapping.
Then there’s some monkey business. Rama helps a bunch of monkeys against another one, thus gaining their support for his fight against Ravana and his kingdom. In the meantime, Hanuman, the white-monkey god, secretly makes his way to Sita – who has managed to delay her marriage to Ravana –, reassures her, and leaves in great fanfare, setting fire single-handedly (yes, yes) to Ravana’s stronghold.
Rama and his following of monkeys arrive. Armies clash. The final duel between the hero, Rama, and the evil king, Ravana, can start. Rama aims with his powerful bow, and poof! Ravana is struck dead. All well’s that ends, right? Do Sita and Rama live happily ever after? Not so fast!
For Rama, in a very delicate manly fashion, basically tells Sita to eff off because she’s not considered “pure” anymore (I mean, during all that time, a pretty woman with a bad boy, suspicion cannot be but valid...). No kidding, that’s actually in the story, I’m not even inventing. I wonder why Rama took all that trouble to try and save her. Or maybe it’s Rama’s brother who convinced him to save Sita nonetheless, you know,... whatever. Anyway, the problem with Rama being so blunt, and, let’s face it, sexist, if not insulting, is that it makes Sita very, very sad (boo-hoo-hoo) – to the point that she decides to kill herself by setting herself on fire. Does Rama intervene and stop her? Nope.
The fire thankfully does nothing to that pretty body of hers (yes, it’s possible in such stories) because she’s indeed “pure”. Rama relinquishes his stupid attitude: Sita and he can now live happily ever after. Who would have guessed it would turn out so well?! (if we consider the death of several monkeys and that of a big bird to be okay, as well as the killing – without trial – of a “terrorist” king... but in these days of drone killing, I guess that’s alright :-/, but I digress.)
PS: for more pictures of dancers, check out some of my older posts, namely Dancing to make dreams come true in Thailand and On with the dance! let joy be unconfined in Peru. You should also definitely check out Hélène Marlaud's beautiful – and safe-for-work – text (in French though) and stunning pictures of Cambodian dancers.