Ramayana / Yarma LetKhaNar ရာမ လကၡဏာ / ရာမ ဇာတ္ Yama Zatdaw

We all are familiar with the Ramayana / Yarma LetKhaNar ရာမ လကၡဏာ / ရာမ ဇာတ္ Yama Zatdaw and I have known all along that there are Ramayana play festivals in Indonesia where our national cultural troupe participated previously, together with those of the other Asian countries where the Ramayana play is a national epic.

Recently, it has come to my knowledge that the Ramayana text dated from the 3rd century B.C. although the origin dated much earlier, and is pre Buddha as attested by it being Dasaratha Jataka No. 461.

Ramayana is to India and the SEAsia, what Iliad is to Greeks and the West and Valmiki is the Asian equivalent of Homer. There are many versions in different countries including the modern version of Chit Oo Nyo in which DhaThaGiri / Ravana / Yawana ရာဝဏ / Datha-giri (ဒသဂီရိ) is the hero, rather than the traditional Rama / Yarma / ရာမ.

Yama Zatdaw

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Yama Zatdaw, unofficially Myanmar’s national epic, is the Burmese version of the Ramayana. There are nine known pieces of the Yama Zatdaw in Myanmar. The Burmese name for the story itself is Yamayana, while zatdaw refers to the acted play or being part of jataka tales of Theravada Buddhism.

The Yama Zatdaw was introduced by oral tradition during King Anawratha’s reign although it was not known clearly whether the story was Valmiki’s Sanskrit epic Ramayana or not. In the Nat-hlaung-gyaung, the Visnu temple, within the walls of old city Bagan, there are some stone sculptures, one of them is Ramachandra. Based on Burmese literature, at least, Hanuman has been known in Burma definitely before 1527 AD.

Burmese ramayana was influenced greatly by Ayutthaya Kingdom, during which various Konbaung Dynasty kings invaded the kingdom. The invasions often brought back spoils of war, including elements of Ramakien (Thai version of Ramayana) into the epic. Rama sā-khyan, one of the well known literature in Burma, is believed to be composed in 1775 AD by U Aung Phyo which begins with Bala kanda and ends begins with Bala kanda and ends at Yudha kanda as in Valmiki’s Ramayana. There are also important Burmese literature and classical music related to ramayana which were developed in that era such as Yama-yakan (Rama’s song), Thida-yakan (Sita’s song) in 1784 AD; Yama-pyazat (Ramayana ballet) in 1789 AD; and Ka-lay Yama watthu (Young Rama’s life) in 1800 AD.

Ethnic Mon adaptation of ramayana is known as “Loik Samoing Ram” which was written in 1834 AD by a Buddhist monk named Uttama. It is evident that “Loik Samoing Ram” is mainly derived from Burmese version as the author of the Mon version stated in his preface that due to the popularity of Burmese version in the capital. However, Mon version also exhibits the connections with Thai, Javanese and Malayan versions and has own unique episodes which can not be found in Thai, Burmese or Malayan versions.


The characters of Yama Zatdaw share the same features and characteristics as those in the original story. However, in acting, the costumes are a mixture of Bamar and Thai elements. The names of the characters, in general, are Burmese transliterations of the Sanskrit names.

Sri Rama is known as Yama (ရာမ).
Sita is known as Thida (မယ်သီတာ).
Lakshmana is known as Lakhana (လက္ခဏ).
Hanuman is known as Hanuman (ဟာနုမန်).
Parashurama is known as Pashu-Yama.
Ravana is known as Yawana (ရာ၀ဏ) or Datha-giri (ဒသဂီရိ).
Vali is known as Bali.
Maricha is known as Marizza.
Vibhishana is known as Bibi-thana (ဘိဘိသန).


The Ramayana (Devanāgarī: रामायण, Rāmāyaṇa) is an ancient Sanskrit epic. It is attributed to the Hindu sage Valmiki and forms an important part of the Hindu canon (smṛti). The Ramayana is one of the two great epics of India, the other being the Mahabharata.[1] It depicts the duties of relationships, portraying ideal characters like the ideal servant, the ideal brother, the ideal wife and the ideal king.

The name Ramayana is a tatpurusha compound of Rāma and ayana (“going, advancing”), translating to “Rama‘s Journey“. The Ramayana consists of 24,000 verses in seven books (ṇḍas) and 500 cantos (sargas),[2] and tells the story of Rama (an incarnation of the Hindu preserver-god Vishnu), whose wife Sita is abducted by the demon king of Lanka, Ravana. Thematically, the epic explores the tenets of human existence and the concept of dharma.[3]

Like its epic cousin the Mahābhārata, the Ramayana is not just an ordinary story: it contains the teachings of ancient Hindu sages and presents them in narrative allegory with philosophical and the devotional elements interspersed. The characters Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Bharata, Hanuman and Ravana are all fundamental to the cultural consciousness of India.

There are other versions of the Ramayana, notably Buddhist (Dasaratha Jataka No. 461) and Jain in India, and also Thai, Lao, Burmese and Malay versions of the tale.


Traditionally, the Ramayana is ascribed to Valmiki, regarded as India’s first poet. The Indian tradition is unanimous in its agreement that the poem is the work of a single poet, the sage Valmiki, a contemporary of Rama and a peripheral actor in the epic drama.[5] The story’s original version in Sanskrit is known as Valmiki Ramayana, dating to approximately the 4th century B.C. According to Hindu tradition, the Ramayana takes place during a period of time known as Treta Yuga.

In its extant form, Valmiki’s Ramayana is an epic poem of some 50,000 lines. The text survives in several thousand partial and complete manuscripts, the oldest of which appears to date from the 11th century A.D. The text has several regional renderings, recensions and subrecensions.

According to literary scholarship, the main body of the Ramayana first appeared as an oral composition somewhere between 750 and 500 BCE. Some cultural evidence (the presence of sati in the Mahabharata but not in the main body of the Ramayana) suggests that the Ramayana predates the Mahabharata.

By tradition, the epic belongs to the Treta Yuga, one of the four eons (yuga) of Hindu chronology. Rama is said to have been born in the Treta Yuga to King Daśaratha in the Ikshvaku vamsa (clan).

The names of the characters (Rama, Sita, Dasharatha, Janaka, Vasishta, Vishwamitra) are all known in Vedic literature such as the Brahmanas which are older than the Valmiki Ramayana. However, nowhere in the surviving Vedic poetry is a story similar to the Ramayana of Valmiki. According to the modern academic view, Brahma, one of the main characters of Ramayana, and Vishnu, who according to Bala Kanda was incarnated as Rama, are not Vedic deities, and come first into prominence with the epics themselves and further during the ‘Puranic’ period of the later 1st millennium CE. There is also a version of Ramayana, known as Ramopakhyana, found in the epic Mahabharata. This version, depicted as a narration to Yudhishtira, does not accord divine characteristics to Rama.


  • Rama is the hero of the tale. Portrayed as the seventh incarnation of the god Vishnu, he is the eldest and favorite son of the King of Ayodhya, Dasharatha, and his wife Kousalya. He is portrayed as the epitome of virtue. Dasharatha is forced by Kaikeyi, one of his wives, to command Rama to relinquish his right to the throne for fourteen years and go into exile.
  • Sita is the beloved wife of Rama and the daughter of king Janaka. She is the incarnation of goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu. Sita is portrayed as the epitome of female purity and virtue. She follows her husband into exile and is abducted by Ravana. She is imprisoned on the island of Lanka until Rama rescues her by defeating the demon king Ravana. Later, she gives birth to Lava and Kusha, the heirs of Rama.
  • Hanuman is a vanara belonging to the kingdom of Kishkindha. He is portrayed as an incarnation of the god Shiva (the Eleventh Rudra) and an ideal bhakta of Rama. He is born as the son of Kesari, a vanara king, and the goddess Anjana. He plays an important part in locating Sita and in the ensuing battle.
  • Lakshmana, the younger brother of Rama, who chose to go into exile with him. He is portrayed as an incarnation of the Shesha, the nāga associated with the god Vishnu. He spends his time protecting Sita and Rama. He is forced to leave Sita, who was deceived by the demon Maricha into believing that Rama was in trouble. Sita is abducted by Ravana upon him leaving her.
  • Ravana, a rakshasa, is the king of Lanka. After performing severe penance for ten thousand years he received a boon from the creator-god Brahma that he could not be killed by gods, demons or spirits. He is portrayed as a powerful demon king, who disturbs the penances of Rishis. Vishnu incarnates as the human Rama to defeat him, thus circumventing the boon given by Brahma.
  • Dasharatha is the king of Ayodhya and the father of Rama. He has three queens, Kousalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi, and three other sons: Bharata, Lakshmana and Shatrughna. Kaikeyi, Dasharatha’s favourite queen, forces him to make his son Bharata crown prince and send Rama into exile. Dasharatha dies heartbroken after Rama goes into exile.
  • Bharata is the son of Dasharatha. When he learns that his mother Kaikeyi had forced Rama into exile and caused Dasharatha to die brokenhearted, he storms out of the palace and goes in search of Rama in the forest. When Rama refuses to return from his exile to assume the throne, Bharata obtains Rama’s sandals and places them on the throne as a gesture that Rama is the true king. Bharata then rules Ayodhya as the regent of Rama for the next fourteen years.
  • Shatrughna is the son of Dasharatha and his third wife Queen Sumitra. He is the youngest brother of Rama and also the twin brother of Lakshmana.

Variant versions

The epic story of Ramayana was adopted by several cultures across Asia.

As in many oral epics, multiple versions of the Ramayana survive. In particular, the Ramayana related in North India differs in important respects from that preserved in South India and the rest of South-East Asia. There is an extensive tradition of oral storytelling based on the Ramayana in Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia and Maldives. Father Kamil Bulke, author of Ramakatha, has identified over 300 variants of Ramayana.

Southeast Asian versions

The Javanese dance of Ramayana describe Shinta held as prisoner in Alengka palace surrounded by ladies in waiting.

Many other Asian cultures have adapted the Ramayana, resulting in other national epics. Kakawin Ramayana is an old Javanese rendering; Yogesvara Ramayana is attributed to the scribe Yogesvara circa 9th century CE, who was employed in the court of the Sriwijaya. It has 2774 stanzas in manipravala style, a mixture of Sanskrit and Archaic prose Javanese language. The most influential version of the Ramayana is the Ravanavadham of Bhatti, popularly known as Bhattikavya. The Javanese Ramayana differs markedly from the original Hindu prototype.

Phra Lak Phra Lam is a Lao language version, whose title comes from Lakshmana and Rama. The story of Lakshmana and Rama is told as the previous life of the Buddha. In Hikayat Seri Rama of Malaysia, Dasharatha is the great-grandson of the Prophet Adam. Ravana receives boons from Allah instead of Brahma. In many Malay language versions, Lakshmana is given greater importance than Rama, whose character is considered somewhat weak.

The Khmer retelling of the tale, the Reamker, is popularly expressed in traditional regional dance theatre.

The Cambodian version of Ramayana, the Reamker, is the most famous story of Khmer Literature since the Funan era. It adapts the Hindu concepts to Buddhist themes and shows the balance of good and evil in the world. The Reamker has several differences from the original Ramayana, including scenes not included in the original and emphasis on Hanuman and Sovanna Maccha, a retelling which influences the Thai and Lao versions. Reamker in Cambodia is not confined to the realm of literature but extends to all Cambodian art forms, such as sculpture, Khmer classical dance, theatre known as Lakhorn Luang (the foundation of the royal ballet), poetry and the mural and bas reliefs seen at the Silver Pagoda and Angkor wat.

Thailand’s popular national epic Ramakien (“Glory of Rama”) is derived from the Hindu epic. In Ramakien, Sita is the daughter of Ravana and Mandodari (T’os’akanth (=Dasakanth) and Mont’o). Vibhisana (P’ip’ek), the astrologer brother of Ravana, predicts calamity from the horoscope of Sita. So Ravana has her thrown into the waters, who, later, is picked by Janaka (Janok). While the main story is identical to that of the Ramayana, many other aspects were transposed into a Thai context, such as the clothes, weapons, topography, and elements of nature, which are described as being Thai in style. It has an expanded role for Hanuman and he is portrayed as a lascivious character. Ramakien can be seen in an elaborate illustration at the Wat Phra Kaew temple in Bangkok.

Other Southeast Asian adaptations include Ramakavaca of Bali (Indonesia), Maharadya Lawana and Darangen of Mindanao (Philippines), and the Yama Zatdaw of Myanmar. Aspects of the Chinese epic Journey to the West were also inspired by the Ramayana, particularly the character Sun Wukong, who is believed to have been based on Hanuman

Theological significance

Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, is a popular deity worshipped in the Hindu religion. Each year, many devout pilgrims trace his journey through India, halting at each of the holy sites along the way. The poem is not seen as just a literary monument, but serves as an integral part of Hinduism, and is held in such reverence that the mere reading or hearing of it, or certain passages of it, is believed by Hindus to free them from sin and bless the reader or listener.

According to Hindu tradition, Rama is an incarnation (Avatar) of the god Vishnu. The main purpose of this incarnation is to demonstrate the righteous path (dharma) for all living creatures on earth.

Arshia Sattar states that the central theme of the Ramayana, as well as the Mahabharata, is respectively Ram’s and Krishna’s hidden divinity and its progressive revelation.

Modern day Burmese version of Ramayana and Ravana / Yawana (ရာ၀ဏ) / Datha-giri (ဒသဂီရိ)

In the modern day Burmese version of the Ramayana by Chit Oo Nyo ခ်စ္ဦးညိဳ,

Lakshmana / LetKhaNa လကၡဏာ and Ravana / Yawana (ရာ၀ဏ) or Datha-giri (ဒသဂီရိ)’s turn came ahead of Rama / Yama (ရာမ).

Lakshmana / LetKhaNa လကၡဏာ could lift the bow and as he tried it he looked at his brother Rama / Yarma ရာမ and left it unlifted so that Rama / Yarma ရာမ will gain the hand of Sita / Thida သီတာ.

In Ravana / Yawana (ရာ၀ဏ) or Datha-giri (ဒသဂီရိ)’s turn, he looked at Sita / Thida သီတာ as he was lifting the bow. Although he knew he could lift the bow, he saw Sita / Thida သီတာ becoming worried and decided to stop lifting the bow and went off. In this version, Ravana / Yawana (ရာ၀ဏ) is the hero who suffers for his love’s happiness.


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5 Responses to “Ramayana / Yarma LetKhaNar ရာမ လကၡဏာ / ရာမ ဇာတ္ Yama Zatdaw”

  1. Sourav Roy Says:

    After some exhaustive research, I have reached to a conclusion that versions of Ramayana exists in many languages, including Annamese, Balinese, Bengali, Cambodian, Chinese, Gujarati, Javanese, Kannada, Kashmiri, Khotanese, Laotian, Malaysian, Marathi, Oriya, Prakrit, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sinhalese, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Tibetan, etc. In Sanskrit itself there are 25 different versions. According to A. K. Ramanujam, more than 300 tellings of Ramayana exist.

    Each has newer dimensions, more fascinating than the other.

    Read them in reverse order here- http://souravroy.com/?s=too+many+ramayanas

    • nyiwin Says:

      Dear Sourav Roy, I have read your blogs “Too many Ramayanas”.
      The Rama play is one of our National dramas, although its origin is in India, as is Buddhism, and our culture and tradition takes them in as if they are our own.
      I have known the Rama play since I was young without realizing its origin and it was much later that I learned of its origin and the fact that our National troupe participated in the Ramayana play festivals some time ago. I do not know about the current day festivals.
      A few years back, an episode of the Rama play was the theme in the National Singing, Dancing, Composing and Playing (musical instrument) ဆို က ေရး တီး contest; the bow stringing competition ေလးတင္ခန္း (for the selection of the groom for Sita / Thida သီတာ.
      In the modern day Burmese version of the Ramayana by Chit Oo Nyo ခ်စ္ဦးညိဳ, Lakshmana / LetKhaNa လကၡဏာ could lift the bow as he tried it, but he looked at his brother Rama / Yarma ရာမ and left it unlifted so that Rama / Yarma ရာမ will gain the hand of Sita / Thida သီတာ.
      In Ravana / Yawana (ရာ၀ဏ) or Datha-giri (ဒသဂီရိ)’s turn, he looked at Sita / Thida သီတာ as he was lifting the bow. Although he knew he could lift the bow, he saw Sita / Thida သီတာ becoming worried and decided to stop lifting the bow and went off. In this version, Ravana / Yawana (ရာ၀ဏ) is the hero who suffers for his love’s happiness.

  2. nyiwin Says:

    Our common cultural heritage, passed through the generations in different countries resulted in many versions, like different species develop in different lands from the same original one. Cultural evolution with mutations!

  3. faza Says:

    too long…………………………

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