Thursday, October 27, 2016

The saga of Rama at the Asian

Sita, Rama’s wife and a key figure in the epic Ramayana tale, is depicted in this bronze statue created in 1,000 a.d. @ Asian Art Museum
The current show at the Asian Art Museum, “The Rama Epic: Hero, Heroine, Ally, Foe" is an attempt to bring the Ramayana to the Western world and make it as colorful and entertaining as only they can. The exhibit explores Hinduism through the art inspired by the Ramayana, one of the oldest and largest epics in literature and still a viable part of the culture of Southeast Asia and the Hindu diaspora. To follow the exhibit closely is to both marvel at the wealth of art inspired by this epic and its vision of what makes a moral person, wife and king but also a crash course in Hinduism.

Rama kills the demon warrior Makaraksha in combat, from a manuscript of the Ramayana @Asian Art Museum
Through a wealth of art both ancient and contemporary, the Asian relates the epic of the life of Rama, the legendary prince of Kosala Kingdom, his banishment from the kingdom by his father, King Dasharatha, his travels across forests in India with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana, the kidnap of his wife by Ravana, the demon king of Lanka, resulting in a war with him, and Rama's eventual return to Ayodhya to be crowned king. Sīta is an important part of the saga and of the exhibit, the avatara of the goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu and the epitome of female purity and virtue. She follows her husband into exile and is abducted by the demon king Ravana. She is imprisoned on the island of Lanka, until Rama rescues her by defeating the Demon King.

Rama. Indonesia, Wayang Golek Puppet. @ Asian Art Museum
When Rama gets Sita back by defeating the Demon King, he puts her through the 3rd degree regarding her fidelity to him and later banishes her because some non-immortal compares his immodest wife to Sita. Apparently, if the news about honor killings, the blind eye turned toward rape and the treatment of women in general in the 3rd world (and elsewhere) is an indication, punishing women for events outside their control and holding them to impossibly high standards hasn't changed through the millennia. Unfortunately, as in many gender issues, the Asian turns a blind eye to this. But not all are oblivious to the problems raised by the continuing influence of an ancient text on contemporary gender roles and male behavior. This is an interesting look at some questions around this theme where the teacher (and hopefully the students) recognize the double standard and question it for our times.

Otherwise, the show is big, colorful, entertaining and as usual with the Asian, beautifully mounted and organized. 135 pieces of art in every possible format from puppets to masks to scripture to paintings and weaving's, display the wide range of eras and cultures that found the Ramayana inspirational. The 25 "storytelling stops where the Ramayana is performed like a radio play" are a necessary resting place to process some of the cultural and visual overload.

Hanuman (the Monkey King) revealing Rama and Sita in his heart. Courtesy Asian Art Museum
The Rama Epic - performances via the Asian's website:

Links to a whole page of performances of the Ramayana:

Wikipedia article on Rama:

The Ramayana

Asian's schedule of lectures around their current show:

Gamelan Sekar Jaya
Sunday, Nov 6 | 12-1 PM

Hero, Heroine, Ally, Foe:
A Symposium on the Rama Epic
Saturday, Nov 19 | 10 AM-1:45 PM

Film Premiere of "Ramayana: The Great Epic
of South & South-East Asia"
Sat, Dec 3 | 2-4 PM

Chitresh Das Dance Company &
Chhandam School of Kathak
Sunday, Dec 4 | 12-1 PM

Forest Tales: An Eco-Cinema in Two Acts
Sat, Dec 10 & Sun, Dec 11 | 2-4 PM

Cambodian Dance with Charya Burt
Sunday, Jan 8 | 12-1 PM


Through: Jan. 15. 10 a.m.-5 pm. Tuesday-Sunday

Where: Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St., San Francisco

Admission: $15-$20 weekdays, $20-$25 weekends. 415-581-3500,

1 comment:

Carla Ives said...

Very interesting! Hindu mythology and art is not something I know very much about. I agree with you about it always being the woman's fault, though, no matter what. As you say, not much changes. Looks like a very intriguing exhibit.