Shri Ram has left an indelible mark on the art, archaeology, literature, and culture of North East. The region, comprising States like Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripura, has embraced the narrative of Shri Ram, incorporating it into various aspects of its rich heritage.
North East is a beautiful region with its rich traditions and culture. The archaeological and literary sources of this region suggest that it has been an important centre of Hindu culture and philosophy for several thousands of years. This region lies in the ancient superhighway connecting Bharat with Southeast Asia and China. Places of this region have been mentioned both in the Ramayan and the Mahabharat and in other ancient Sanskrit literatures.
The presence of Shri Ram and Ramkatha has been a significant aspect of most of the communities of this region. Mandirs dedicated to Shri Ram were found at Kaldaba in Dhubri, Assam which has ancient roots. The earliest reference of Shri Ram has been found in the 7th-century Dubi copper plate inscription of Bhaskarvarma. The inscription hails Shri Ram and king Dasarath in high esteem. The Ahom dynasty that ruled Assam for six centuries patronised Sanatan Dharma and built several temples dedicated to different Gods. The Ahom king Siva Singha issued rock inscriptions associated with land grants in the name of Shri Ram. These inscriptions are preserved at the Assam State Museum, Guwahati. Another Ahom king Pramata Singha also issued a similar stone inscription in the name of Shri Ram at Silghat Kamakhya temple situated in Nagaon district of Assam. One of the greatest Ahom kings Rudra Singha also issued a rock inscription at Rudreshwar Devalaya in the name of Shri Ram. King Rajeshwar Singha also issued similar land grants at Vasistha Ashram in Guwahati and in some other places in the name of Shri Ram. Similarly, king Laksmi Singh, Gaurinath Singha and Chandrakanta Singha also continued the tradition of their ancestors and they issued land grants in the name of Shri Ram for temples, Satras and Brahmans. The issuance of land grants in the name of Shri Ram by Ahom kings can be seen as a manifestation of the rulers’ piety and devotion to Hinduism. By aligning themselves with a revered deity, the kings may have aimed to present their rule as divinely sanctioned, reinforcing the idea of a righteous and just governance. This religious connection could also signify a commitment to Dharma, moral and ethical duties outlined in Hindu philosophy, as the land grants have been perceived as a means to support religious institutions and promote the welfare of the community.
The literature of North East has embraced the tales of Shri Ram through various forms. Writers and poets draw inspiration from the Ramayan, crafting literary works that resonate with the cultural ethos of the region.
Shrimanta Sankaradeva, who gave the greatest impetus to the cause of Assamese literature in the succeeding century, held Shri Ram in high esteem and was charmed with His graceful and moving rendering of the Ramayan. The legacy of a rich and beautiful diction which Madhava Kandali left in his Ramayan exercised a tremendous influence on Sankardeva and his immediate successors. Sankardeva composed several Ankiya Nats (plays) among them Rama-vijaya (The Conquest of Ram ) in the late 16th century, considered to be very popular among the people of Assam. Similarly, in the 16th century, poet Durgabar Kayatha composed Giti-Ramayan and rendered it into songs. In the 17th century, Ananta Dasa composed Shri Ram Kirtan.
Shri Ram has been an important aspect of cultural heritage in different communities of North East. During the pre-British period, Ramayan and Ram Katha were a popular folk tradition among the Mizos. Many of the episodes of Ramayan are found in Mizo folk tales. Their oral traditions described Shri Ram and Lakshman as their Gods and believe that they taught them how to cultivate paddy. Ram Katha plays an important role in Mizo folk belief and proverbs as well. The Karbi community has their own version of Ramayan called Sabin Alun where the entire story of Ramayan is described in Karbi language and it is set in the environment of Karbi customs and traditions. They believe that the Karbis are descendents of Sugriv, the king of Kiskindha. The Sabin Alun occupies a special place of importance in the socio-cultural and religious lives of the Karbis. The Khamti of Arunachal Pradesh have their own version of Ramayan called Lik Chaw Lamang. The Khamti Ramayan, deeply reflecting the ethos, customs and religious beliefs of the Khamti community, is prevalent among the Khamtis inhabiting the Lohit region of Arunachal Pradesh . It represents the continuity of the popular tradition of Ram Katha in Southeast Asia. Similarly, the Mishimis of Arunachal Pradesh have a similar story to Ram Katha. The Aka of Kameng district also relates them to Jambavan, a great character of Ramayan. In the State of Meghalaya, Jaintia, Khasi and Garo have their own versions of Ramayan. Ramayan was translated into Khasi language way back in 1900 by Jeebon Roy, founder of Seng Khasi movement. The Khasi people of Ri-War region of Meghalaya believe that oranges of the area are sweet because Shri Ram had dropped the seeds while going to Ayodhya after His victory over Ravan. Among the Jaintias, twin brothers are addressed as Shri Ram and Lakhon (Lakshman). Ramayan is fairly well- known among the Garos as well. In Tripura, Shri Ram is worshipped as God since time immemorial. A 15th century Tripuri chronicle described King Ramganga Manikya as an ardent devotee of Shri Ram. Ram Panchali, a form of folk poetry based on Shri Ram story, is performed on different occasions, particularly during Shradh ceremonies in the villages of Tripura. Shri Ram’s legend has profound influence on the folklore of Tripura. The episodes, themes and characters of Ram Katha find an important place in folktales, proverbs, riddles and folk beliefs and folk art. Deep influence of Shri Ram’s story in the life and culture of the people of Tripura is evident from the association of names of people, place, hills, flora and fauna with different characters from Ramayan.
Manipur is a centre of Vaishnava tradition in North East. Stories of Shri Ram are depicted in Manipuri language, popularly known as Larik-Thiba-Maiba. It is a kathak tradition in Manipuri presented on various occasions. A complete Manipuri translation of Valmiki Ramayan was done by L. Ibungo Yaima Singh. Similarly, Raghu Vamsha of Kalidasa has two Manipuri versions rendered by Pandit Kalachand Shastry and Pandit Brajbihari Sharma. Manipuri folk minstrels singing the epic story of Khamba-Thoibi also take up the story of the Ramayana. Accompanied to the folk stringed instrument called Pena, this performance is regarded as an act of prayer and worship.
Shri Ram’s influence on the art, architecture, literature, and culture of North East is a testament to the enduring power in shaping the identity of a region. As the tales of Shri Ram continue to be passed down through generations, they contribute to the vibrant and diverse cultural mosaic that define North East. However, it is heartening to notice that the local history and tradition including Ramayan and Ram katha were severely suppressed during the colonial period. After Independence, our education system never included popular folk traditions of this region in the syllabi and curriculum. Our historical facts were distorted and presented in such a way that it completely failed to infuse the sense of pride of being Bharatiya. We were taught about foreign rulers and invaders as heroes. Our education system produced a class of people who were admirers of everything not belong to their own country. With these conspiracies a section of people were produced who are devoted for the establishment of foreign faith and culture while demonising Bharatiya tradition and culture in the country. n