Sunday, April 12, 2009

Islamizing the Ramayana

I wrote two partial entries on Hikayat Seri Rama - the Malay version of the Ramayana. While some may wonder why on earth I would write entries on the Hindu epic, last night I found the perfect answer reading Dr Azly Rahman's Illumination blog entitled Islamizing the Ramayana.

I mentioned in both entries how prophet Adam was the one who granted Rawana his four kingdoms in Hikayat Seri Rama, but I was merely talking from memory as we had lost the book. To my mind, Hikayat Seri Rama is never a Hindu epic - I never once encounter Brahma, Vishnu or Siva, but Allah and his prophet Adam Alaihissalam.

Dr Azly gives the actually para from the book albeit one in English, posted 10 April 2009.

This condition manifested itself in the development of the Malay literature, Hindu elements that originated from the Hindu holy scriptures, for instance, theRamayana and Mahabharatta that glorified Vishnu, Siva, Brahma and other gods and godesses were replaced with Islamic concept of the Supreme being (Hamid, 1974, pp. 77-78).

To illustrate the point above, let me compare two passages of the epic in its Indian version (as told by William S. Buck) and to the one in Shellabear’s version of the
Hikayat Seri Rama. These passages concern with the Rakshasha King Ravana’s coming into power: Ravana held the knife to his throat, when Brahma appeared and said, ‘Stop! Ask me a boon at once!’

‘I am glad that I please you,’ said Ravana. ‘Please me!’ said Brahma. ‘Your will is dreadful, too strong to be neglected; like a bad disease I must treat it. Your pains make me hurt. Ask!’ ‘May I be unslayable and never defeated by the gods or any one from any heaven, by Hell’s devils or Asuras or demon spirits, by underworld serpents or Yakshas or Rakshasas’. ‘Grated!’ said Brahma quickly. He gave Ravana back his burnt heads better looking than before. They rose living and smoothed down his black moustaches. Brahma told Vibhishana, ‘Ask’. ‘May I never forget Dharma in peril or in pleasure, in comfort or in distraction’. Brahma said, ‘Yes; and you will be immortal on Earth and exempt from death or oblivion; and my truth knows no turning’. (Buck, 1976, pp. 23).

Here in the Indian version, 
Lord Brahma, the creator is presented as the one approaching King Ravana. In the Malay version, there was a middle man who dealt with what Ravana’s wishing for, the prophet Adam, first man on Earth.

With the blessing and power of Allah (SWT) the prophet Adam was hence descended from heaven for come period of time on earth. Once upon a time, at dawn, the prophet was walking on Earth when he met 
Ravana, meditating, hanging upside down. The prophet asked:

‘O Ravana, why art thou doing as such to thyself? How long has thou been this way?’

Ravana replied, ‘O Gracious prophet of Allah. I have been in this condition for twelve years’ Adam then said, ‘O Ravana, what is it that thou hath begged from Allah (SWT) that thou hath acted as such? Ravana answered, ‘O My Lord Propheth of Allah, if it would be at all possible that thou would asketh Lord Allah’s granting of my wish. I would hence proclaim the nature of it’ The prophet Adam then said, ‘O Ravana tell me the nature of the wish of thou’. (Shellabear, 1964, p.3)

Thus Ravana told the prophet of his wish, that Allah grant him four kingdoms: on earth, heavan, underworld and the seas. The prophet then told Ravana:

Hence, at this moment, thou hath to promise me, that whenth thou doth commit wrongdoings or thou subjects doth doings as such and thou blesseth thee therein and not judge other wise, thou hath to accept the wrath of thy Lord Allah. Whereas thou agreeth upon this promise. I would hereby asketh upon Lord Allah thou’s humble wishes. (Shellabear, 1964, p.2)

I am glad he did the comparative study what I had observed since first reading the epic more than 30 years ago. I remember well how Rawana has been hanging upside down in meditation, for 12 years seeking for four kingdoms.


I wrote this in my May 2007 entry ( posted 1 April 2009.

"I was taken by the story when I was in primary school. The Malay version of Hikayat Seri Rama was edited by one Onn, and published by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka. Actually I would think it was a Malaynised version of the epic Hindu scripture. In fact make that Islamic. I mean, when the Emperor Rahwana requested Allah for four kingdoms for him to rule, the person who granted his wishes was no other than the prophet Adam."

In another entry titled Aku di sebuah Pulau and the state of Malay literature posted on May 4, 2007 (, I wrote:

"How about Hikayat Seri Rama?” I asked her, “It was after all published by DBP and edited by one Onn someone.” HSR is the Malay version of the Ramayana, complete with the prophet Adam included in the story (when Maharaja Rawana was given kingdoms in the sea, earth, heaven (tujuh petala langit), and on land for him to rule); I guess to make it more palatable to the (muslim) Malays. It is an epic of a story which included the love story of Sri Rama and Sita Dewi. Rawana obviously was head-over-heels over Sita Dewi and wanted to make her his Queen, and hence he abducted her. One should read about all the battles between Rawana and Sri Rama, with the help of his brother Laksamana and monkey king Hanuman, and his monkey soldiers. Gegak gempita! The battles, I must say, made Star Wars movies look like childplay!"

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