As King Dasharatha’s dear son Lama desired,
He had married the lotus-honeyed Sita.
But one day the ruler of Lanka, ten-nosed King Lavana,
Shamelessly intoned of Sita, that jewel of womanhood,
“You pearl of damsels, since we brought you to Lanka,
So many days have passed, my pearl, my radiant flower garland!
By my two eyes, I swear to you, my golden one,
That I have had such desire to see you and tell you what I should …
But when such a woman should have entered the bower of bliss with me—
Why, Allah! Why did you come with that pig Lama?
THESE LINES, translated from Malayalam, are part of what is known as the Mappila Ramayana. As countless other places and communities have done, the Mappilas—Muslims who live in the Malabar region of Kerala—have adapted the story of Ram and Ravan, whom they refer to as Lama and Lavana, in the mould of their own culture. Their references to Allah point to their Islamic belief system. The Mappila Ramayana is merely one part of a large body of literature that comprises various Islamicised versions of the Ramayana in South and Southeast Asia.
As the scholar AK Ramanujan wrote in his essay “Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation,” the countless textual and oral versions of the tale of Ram are like little streams that flow towards the mighty river that is Ramayana literature. While Valmiki’s Ramayana often occupies the mainstream imagination, the notion that one single version is higher or more authentic than others has been rejected by modern scholars, given the lack of information on dating for each of them.