This paper examines the role of the Hindu Epic Rāmāyaṇa in the historical and cultural contact between India and the rest of Asia. The Rama legend—rather legends—are prevalent in almost all countries of Asia, namely China, Tibet, East Turkestan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaya, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and Burma. The contact was not only close but it was also general and widespread. By no means was it confined to the Brahmanical values which were upheld by Vālmīki in the Sanskrit Rāmāyaṇa and shared by the upper strata of Hindu society. The Rama legends prevalent in Asia, except those in China, do not agree in content and emphasis with the Vālmīki version. A close examination of the Rama story in India itself reveals that in addition to the Vālmīki version, a number of Rama legends, differing from the Valmiki story, were prevalent in vernacular and Jain Literature all over the country. All diese versions provided the diverse and complex source material for the Ramayanic legends of Asia. Brahmanical and non-Brahmanical elements appeared in different mixtures and emphasis. While China accepted the more orthodox ethical values, the countries of Soudieast Asia adopted Rāmāyaṇa mostly for the epic qualities of romance, adventure, and valor.

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