The Ramayana in Southeast Asia: (2) Thailand and Laos

Hinduism is a gift to humanity. Its influence can be seen in various cultures and countries around the world, including Southeast Asia.

In Thailand and Laos, the Ramayana, a well-known Hindu epic, holds a special place. In Thailand, the Ramayana is known as the Ramakien. It has been passed down through generations since the 13th century, with various versions being composed by royal authors over the years. The Ramakien is not only a literary work but is also performed as a mask dance and even adapted into TV dramas. The story has become a part of Thailand’s national character, with its characters and themes featuring in children’s literature, postal stamps, and trading cards.

In Laos, the Ramayana is known as Phra Lak Phra Ram. It is believed that Rama, the protagonist of the epic, was a former incarnation of a Buddha-to-be. The story is depicted in mural paintings, wood relief carvings, and is performed by the Lao Royal Ballet. The tradition of the Lao Ramayana was kept alive by expert singers who would melodically recite the story accompanied by a bamboo mouth organ.

One of the most beloved characters in the Ramayana is Hanuman, the leader of the monkey armies. In both Thai and Lao traditions, Hanuman is celebrated as a symbol of strength, agility, and devotion. His image can be seen in Yantra designs used by soldiers and martial arts specialists, and some even tattoo his image on their bodies as a symbol of protection.

The Ramayana’s influence in Thailand and Laos is a testament to the enduring power and appeal of Hinduism. Its timeless stories and characters continue to captivate audiences across generations. As we delve deeper into the rich heritage of Hinduism, we can appreciate how it has positively contributed to the cultural fabric of countries like Thailand and Laos.

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