Sunday, October 26, 2008

The true meaning of Malaysia

It is widely known that well into the 9th century, the Indian epic Ramayana had become popularised in much of Indochina and increasingly the Malay Archipelago through the expanse of the Srivijaya and Majapahit kingdoms

Over the centuries, the legend of Sri Rama and Sita Devi along with the supporting cast of Laksamana, Hanuman, Rahwana and a slew of other characters became an influential and dominant feature of traditional Malay culture and folklore in the form of the Hikayat Sri Rama. Indeed, the legendary epic of the Ramayana – as portrayed through our uniquely Malaysian Hikayat Sri Rama - became the major part for the growth and appeal of the art of wayang kulit. This epic – especially the segment on the abduction of Sita Devi by the demon Rahwana and her eventual rescue by her husband the noble Prince Sri Rama, his brother and most loyal compatriot, Prince Laksamana, and an army of monkeys led by the much revered Hanuman – has endured for several millennia.

In the process, many other off-shoots of this much grand and celebrated epic have made their way into the heart and soul of the wayang kulit tradition and into the hearts of millions of Malaysians. Performed throughout the Malay Archipelago the story of Sri Rama and Sita Devi has become a truly historic, classic, and renowned facet of Malay – and Malaysian - culture and tradition.

As the legend has it, Sita Devi is abducted by the demon Rahwana while she, her husband, Sri Rama, and Luksamana were in exile in the forest from their kingdom of Ayodhya. Sri Rama and Luksamana, in their desperate search for Sita Devi, encounter Hanuman and his associates. The latter, devotees of Sri Rama, join the prince of Ayodha and his brother in search of Sita. Eventually discovering that Sita is being held captive by her admirer, the demon Rahwana in his kingdom of Lanka, the rescue party eventually confronts the demon and his forces in an epic battle.

As legendary epic battles between good and evil go, Sri Rama’s forces prevail. He and his entourage eventually return to Ayodhya triumphant and his long awaiting subjects in the kingdom revel in celebration. Darkness is defeated – let the world rejoice. Let there be Diwali – a celebration of lights – to signify the triumph of goodness.

May the spirit of the Hikayat Sri Rama – a truly historic tradition of Malaysia – which hails from the Ramayana, and which in turn is the basis of the celebration of Diwali – be an enduring symbol of the true promise of Malaysia: a celebration and fusion of diverse traditions and cultures.

The fact of the matter is, the Hikayat Sri Rama is but one example and manifestation of the true meaning of Malaysia. If we look close enough and are honest with ourselves, we will see that the examples of the fusion of our diverse traditions and cultures abound – be they of the Orang Asli, the Chinese, the Europeans, the Indians, the Malays, and others - that have not only dotted this society, but together, have given the country its essential identity.    

And on this occasion, as we celebrate Diwali – and one example of such fusion of our cultures - let us not forget those who remain political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. May this season of light bring them peace and shakti

May the spirit of Hikayat Sri Rama bring you and yours peace. Hari Om. [Oops! I almost forgot - Happy Diwali, Auntie Maalini.] 

G. Krishnan