Feminization and De/Reterritorialization in a Transnational Adaptation of Ramayana
Panel:Adaptations of South Asian Narratives Across Time and Space
“How many Ramayanas? Three hundred? Three thousand? At the end of some Ramayanas, a question is sometimes asked: How many Ramayanas have there been?” enquires A.K. Ramanujan in his seminal essay on the plethora of adaptations of the Indian epic in South and South East Asian cultures spanning several centuries. In fact, textual scholarship on the Ramayana identifies thousands, not just hundreds, of variations of the text, and scholars like Paula Richman have questioned the ‘original’ and canonical status that has often been attributed to Valmiki’s Ramayana. Several variations have subverted the Hindu Brahminical and patriarchal overtones of Valmiki’s version, and one can trace a rich tradition of anti-caste (e.g. the Jambavantapurana from South India) and feminist renditions (e.g. the sixteenth century Chandrabati Ramayana which continues to be invoked and adapted by contemporary authors and artists) from the subcontinent. Within the context of this heterogeneous textual tradition, this paper analyses a twenty-first century animated film adaptation of the Ramayana, Sita Sings the Blues (2008) by the American artist and filmmaker Nina Paley, which juxtaposes the Ramayana narrative from a feminist point of view with the filmmaker’s personal narrative of love and loss. While I examine the process of cartoonification of a world epic, and the stylistic intermedial shifts in the process, the paper specifically focuses on the feminization of the Ramayana narrative in a transnational context and the de/reterritorialization of the narrative from ancient South Asia to contemporary North America.