It was 1992 when I started, for the first time, to study the contents of the indigenous versions of Ramayana prevalent in Southeast Asia, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thai, Cambodia and Burma. The well-known versions of Rama story from the region were collected by me either in original or in duplicate copy. They consist of Ramayana Kakawin of Java, Hikayat Sri Rama of Malaysia, Ramakien of Thai, Reamker of Cambodia, Phra Lak Phra Lam of Laos and Rama Yagan of Burma. In addition to them, the minor and local versions of Rama story though very little is known about them, were also available to gather, thanks to many colleagues from the region. It was quite valuable for me to be able to obtain the copies of Maharadia Lawana from Philippines, Lanka Xihe from Yunnan, China, Loik Samoing Ram of Mon, Batara Rama in Sundanese, and Serat Rama of Medieval Java. As a matter of course, it became obvious that though the Southeast Asian Ramayanas share the basic structure and the main plot with Valmiki Ramayana, they also contain major and minor divergencies from Valmiki.
The consequence of my study was delivered as a key note lecture on Ramayana at the 2nd Forum of Asian and Pacific Performing Arts, which was held at Kobe, under the auspices of the Performing Arts Foundation, Hyogo, in October 1992. In next year, an International Conference on Burma Studies was held at Humboldt Universidad at Berlin, Germany. As one of the participants to that Conference, I could submit my research paper entitled "The Burmese versions of Rama Story and their Peculiarities" .
Two years later, I had an opportunity to attend the Eighth International Conference-Seminar of Tamil Studies, which was held at Tamil University, Thanjavur, India, in January 1995, and read my research paper on a comparative study of Southeast Asian Ramayanas with Kampan Ramayana of South India. In August of the same year, I was fortunately invited to the 12th International Ramayana Conference which was held at Leiden University, the Netherlands, and provided a valuable opportunity to deliver a special lecture on the Loik Samoing Ram, the Ramayana composed in Mon language, which was for the first time introduced to the outside of the Mon community.
Since then, I was invited to the International Conferences on Ramayana Studies annually: 13th International Ramayana Conference held at Shenzhen University, China, in April 1996, 14th International Ramayana Conference held at Houston, Tex, United State in May 1997, and 15th International Ramayana Conference held at Trinidad & Tobago in August 1998. The titles of my research papers which were read by me at the respective Conference were as follows:
(1) A Comparative Study of Lanka Xihe, the Tai version of Rama story in Yunnan Province, China. (1996).
(2) A comparative Study of Burmese, Laotian and Yunnan versions of Rama Story (1997).
(3) A Comparison of Lannathai Rama Story and Laotian Rama Stories.(1998).
In 1997, I was invited to the International Institute of Tamil Studies, Chennai, India, as a Visiting Professor, for three months from December to the end of March 1998. I have to express my gratitude to the Institute because I could stay there quite comfortably and conveniently by a favorable and benevolent terms provided by the Institute to me, and thanks to the Institute, I could compile a book with over five hundred pages, entitled "A Comparative Study of Southeast Asian Ramayanas with Indian Ramayanas".
Meanwhile, the study on Burmese versions of Rama story was also carried out in parallel by me continuously during past six years since 1992. It can be safely assumed therefore that the researches on Burmese versions of Ramayana have been finished almost all completely and will be able to publish as a book. I applied for a grant-in-aid of Osaka University of Foreign Studies in 1998 fiscal year and was approved to publish my manuscripts together with an English Translation of Rama Vatthu which has not been known yet to outside of Burma.
Rama Vatthu was at first found as two palm-leaf manuscripts in 1973: one from a Buddhist monastery in Pagan-Nyaungoo area and the other in a monastery near Rangoon. Though the date of transcription was 1871 A.D, according to the colophon of the manuscript, U Thein Han, the Chief Libearian of the Rangoon University' Library, presumed them as having been originally composed probably in 17th Century, A.D.
A photocopy taken from the original palm-leaf manuscript became available at the Universities Central Library, Rangoon in 1974. It is for the first time translated into English from Burmese original and introduced to the outside of Burmese community by me.
I am deeply appreciate it at first to the Ministry of Education, Government of Japan, that my research activities on Ramayana of Southeast Asia have become available by means of a Research Project, No. 14402-09610526, Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (C) for three years from 1997 to 1999, and secondly to Osaka University of Foreign Studies that my manuscripts on the study of Burmese Ramayana together with the English translation of Rama Vatthu were able to publish as one of the academic series of publication of the University.
I also wish to thank Mr. John Okell, Senior Lecturer in Burmese at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London, for his favour to provide me a series of photographs on Ramayana woodcarvings sculptured on the outer wall of a Buddhist monastery named Moda Kyaung in Mandalay. It is to be regretted to hear that the valuable woodcarvings of Ramayana from Moda Kyaung had been lost eternally by a conflagration several years ago.
A special word of my thanks is due to Leng Mg, an artist of the Universities Central Library, Rangoon, who kindly provided me two sheets of tracing of the Ramayana terracotta reliefs from Lawka Marazein Pagoda, Payagyi village, Budalin township.
This book deals with the Burmese Ramayanas, which are, of course, well known to the people inside the Burmese community, but not so popular to the people outside the Burmese community.
This book is composed of two sections: the one is a kind of anthology of the author's research papers concerning the Burmese Ramayanas and the other is English translation of Rama Vatthu (Yama Wutthu), which was recently discovered in two Buddhist Temples.
The content of Burmese Ramayana differs considerably from Valmiki Ramayana and any other Ramayanas of India. It is needless to say that the basic structure, the order of arrangement and main motifs are fundamentally similar with those of Valmiki. The readers will, however, be astonished to know the facts that Rama in Burmese Ramayanas is not regarded as the incarnation of Visnu, but of Bodhisattva, and that Surpanakha transforms herself into a golden hind.
The English translation of Burmese Ramayana has been done on the basis of Rama Vatthu (Yama Wutthu), which was discovered in the form of palm- leaf manuscripts. Unfortunately the name of the compiler of the palm-leaf manuscript and the exact date of compilation cannot be known because of the lack of description in the colophon.
The author of this book has the honour to mention that the English translation directly from the Burmese original was for the first time carried out by him.
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