AK Ramanujan, in his essay Three Hundred Ramayanas asks,

How many Ramayanas? Three hundred? Three thousand? At the end of some Ramayanas, a question is sometimes asked: How many Ramayanas have there been?

One need not be surprised at this question. In fact, Ramayana is one of the most popular of Indian stories with almost every culture from Central Asia to the furthest known islands of Indonesia and Philippines having their own local versions.

In the remote highlands of Mindanao in Philippines, the story of Maharadia Lawana is taught everywhere by the Maranaos – in Madarassas, in households and everywhere. It has become a part of the social fabric and only the modernity and a global village are disrupting it. This is their local variant of Ramayana – a story which was brought to Philippines by the earliest waves of Hindus traders which then incorporated ideas from the subsequent religions – Buddhism and Islam. Their version of Ramayana goes thus.

Lawana is the son of Sultan and Sultana of Pulu Bandiarmasir and posessed eight heads. He had an irritable character and the whole Sultanate became a matter of derision because of his actions. Ultimately, the news reached his father and he was exiled to Pulu Nagara. In that remote island, he performs tapas to Allah and through the angel Diabarail, he is released from his tapas. He lights a fire and threatens to jump into it cyring the world is in chains and that his sacrifice is to rid the world of it’s chains. Diabarail hears that and tells it to Allah who asks Lawana to desist sacrificing himself because nothing can kill him except a sword sharpened on a whetstone kept in his father’s palace. He returns back to his father’s kingdom as a transformed man much to the happiness of his father.

In another kingdom Agama Niog, the two sons of the Sultan Radia Mangandiri and Radia Mangawarna have grown to manhood but are yet to be married. They decided to go to the Sultanate of Pulu Nabandai, whose daughter Tuwan Potre Malaila Tihaia they were to woo. They set on a boat with provisions worth ten years – enough for the journey. But, they were shipwrecked and beached on the land of the princess. They were tended by an old lady Kabayan till they recovered from the accident.

There, Radia Mangandiri wins the hand of Tuwan Potre Malaila Ganding or Tihaia. The brothers reside in that kingdom for some time before they decide to return. The long journey it was, they stayed on an island for some time to grow rice and corn and reprovision their stocks.

One day, the brothers and Tihaia saw a deer with golden horns grazing amongst the ripening grain. Tihaia wanted that animal to be caught and if not, she would die. Mangandiri went forth to capture the deer and as he wrestled it, the deer cried for help in the voice of Mangandiri, begging his brother to come and help. Mangawarna was guarding his sister-in-law and she forced him to go to help his brother. When Mangawarna reached there, the deer split into two and made the brothers chase it in different directions only to disappear. When Mangawarna reached back to their house, he sees that Tihaia is abducted by Maharadia Lawana – it was Maharadia Lawana who disguised himself as a deer!!

Mangawarna set out again to locate his brother. Mangandiri, during the chase fell into a river and was carried downstream unconscious. In his unconsciousness, he dreamt that he fought a water buffalo which gored him and one of his testicles was thrown into the East. The Queen of the East Potre Langawi swallowed it and became pregnant with a monkey child named Laksamana.

By this time, Mangawarna reaches his brother and arouses him from sleep. Both of them lament the loss of Tihaia. But, they don’t have an army to fight Maharadia Lawana and are dejected. When they were contemplating what to do, the monkey child Laksamana appears before him and offers his service!! After much hesitation, the brothers accept Laksamana who prepared his followers – water buffalos and monkeys to search and retrive the princess. Laksamana finally finds the princess after jumping over the seas on the palm of his father, Radia Mangandiri, who now recognises his parenthood. Laksamana observed that whenever Maharadia Lawana approaches Potre Malano Ganding fire appears between them.

A bridge is built with vines between the island where they are residing and Lawana’s island. When the bridge is swaying and crocodiles threaten to eat them, Laksamana defeats them and the crocodile promise to help them in their quest.

The battle between the two start and Lawana’s army is wiped out. Whoever ran towards the sea were eaten by Laksamana’s crocodiles. Lawana himself joins the battle – fighting Mangawarna and then Mangandiri and then Mangawarna again, who at this time wounds Lawana with a sword that was sharpened in a stone that was foretold that any blade that is sharpened on it shall be the only weapon that shall subdue Lawana. Thus Lawana falls wounded.

Everything ends in peace – Lawana rules with justice, Mangawarna, Mangandiri, Potre Malaila Ganding and Laksamana along with his retinue proceed on the crocodiles to Agama Niog where they are received with first with fear but when assuaged, with joy and happiness. Laksamana metamorphoses into a handsome prince. Everyone lives happily ever after.

Though the core story is identical, the narrative is sufficiently mashed up with the details of birth, the reason why Lawana abducted Tihaia and other important aspects go missing. Ravana prays to Allah and interestingly, we see that Lawana’s death is independent of his penance and it is not clearly said if he survived the battle or died. Comparing this with Ramayana, we see that Mareecha is replaced by Ravana himself, Vibhishana who is given the throne of Lanka is again Ravana and while every other name is intuitive, the name Laksamana needs some explanation. Laksamana is not Hanuman a fusion of both Hanuman and Lava-Kusa.

But, on the whole, is this the weirdest version of Ramayana we can come across? I doubt.

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