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The Ramayana Revisited$
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Mandakranta Bose

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780195168327

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2005

DOI: 10.1093/0195168321.001.0001

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Why Can't a Shudra Perform Asceticism?

Why Can't a Shudra Perform Asceticism?

Śambūka in Three Modern South Indian Plays

(p.125) 5 Why Can't a Shudra Perform Asceticism?
The Ramayana Revisited

Mandakranta Bose (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines interest from south India in an episode originating in the Uttarakanda attributed to Valmiki's Rāmāyana. Among the actions for which Rāma has been most frequently criticized in south India, the story of the beheading of Sambuka, a low-caste ascetic, by Rāma stands out. Three 20th-century plays, one each in Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada, deal with the episode, showing in their portrayal of the main characters, their interaction, and the ethical implications of Rāma's action the debate on the caste system in south India in the early 20th century. All three depart from the original story in responding to the killing of Sambuka with horror and clear him from the taint of adharma, although in one of them the ending is radically changed from the Valmiki original, and Sambuka is not killed by Rāma, who is seen by the playwright as a wise and compassionate ruler who rises above brahminical prejudice. The other two plays are critical of Rāma, one for his refusal to admit the spiritual equality of men, and the other for what it views as his political use of Sambuka's transgression to shut out low-caste people from institutions of privilege.

Keywords:   Uttarakanda, Valmiki, Rāmāyana, plays, caste, Brahmin

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