On September 21-23, 2001, Northern Illinois University (NIU), U.S.A. and the International Ramayana Institute of North America held the 2001 Ramayana Conference in DeKalb, Illinois. The objective of the conference was to enable interaction among students, faculty members and other conference attendees. The entire program also had strong support from Asian and other communities in DeKalb as well as from communities within a 75-mile-radius of DeKalb.
The Ramayana fair and conference are very unique events because they cut across the cultural, religious, language and regional barriers of India, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar (Burma). The entire program consisted of three parts. The first part on Friday and Saturday included scholarly papers from seven different countries of the world, that is, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), the U.S., Belgium and France. The conference also included scholars from seven different U.S. states including Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, California, New York and New Jersey.
The second part included a teachers' workshop, which was held on Saturday afternoon, and the presentations featured teaching Ramayana to students of different levels. The regions featured included India, Southeast Asia and Mindanao Island in the Philippines.
The third part was the Ramayana Fair, which was held on Sunday, September 23. It included food, exhibitions and six hours of nonstop performances from India, Indonesia, Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia. The Indian part included Kuchipudi, Bharat Natyam and Katthak Style dances.
The objectives of the conference, teachers' workshop and the Ramayana Fair was to enable the interaction among scholars,students, attendees and faculty members, which may eventually result in joint research and student and scholar exchange, and to foster closer ties among the countries and cultures participating in the conference.
The teachers' workshop had three sessions on Saturday afternoon. Mrs. Rashmi Gandhi, a teacher at Hoover Elementary School in Schaumburg, Illinois and Mrs. Poonam Singh, a teacher at Reskin Elementary School in Glendale Heights, Illinois gave a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation with Ramayana story visuals on how to teach students the Ramayana story.
Syracuse University had a representative, Mr. Jishnu Shankar, who indicated that the university has special programs like puppet making, in association with a local puppet museum in Syracuse, New York, that are used to teach students Ramayana.
Ms. Neha Trivedi, a graduate student from Northern Illinois University, presented the workshop with course material used by Syracuse University. Mr. Rey Ty, another NIU graduate student, presented coursework using Mindanao Island's (Philippines) local Ramayana.
Dr. Robert Goldman of the University of California, Berkeley was one of the keynote speakers of the conference, and he covered Valmiki's values in India and beyond. Dr. Goldman specifically covered the impact of the Ramayana in Southeast Asia. His keynote address included Sanskrit Sloka to back up his statements. Dr. Goldman has published two of the five volumes of Valmiki Ramayana in English. He is considered one of the top Ramayana scholars who leads research at the University of California, Berkeley. One of his students, who obtained his master's in sanskrit from the University of Chicago, is researching folklore related to Vishwamitra in Mahasrastra, India.
The second keynote speaker, Dr. Philip Lutgendorf from the Department of Asian Languages and Literature at the University of Iowa, had a very interesting presentation on Hanuman. His presentation included several dozen slides from India that depicted how Hanuman is one of the most worshipped gods in India. His visuals included different temples, sculptures, paintings and other forms of Indian artwork related to Hanuman.
Among the other U.S. speakers was Dr. Amita Sinha, associate professor, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign whose presentation included several visuals depicting the use of landscapes in the Ramayana paintings of India. Patricia Henry of Northern Illinois University covered Indonesian Ramayana. Saw Tun from Northern Illinois University talked about the Burmese Ramayana. Dr. Phyllis Herman from California State University in Northridge presented a paper on Sita Rasoi shrines in modern India. Mark A. Oliver and Ronit Ricci from the University of Michigan talked about the university's several years of research efforts on the Indonesian Ramayana. Dr. and Mrs. Rao from the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh were learned contributors to the entire conference. Their own presentation on Rama and Sita's return journey in the Indonesian Ramayana was well received. At every session that they attended they participated actively in the discussions that followed the presentations.
Dr. V. Raja Bandaru, an independent scholar from New Jersey, gave a presentation on the Poetic Portrayal of Characters in Ramayana.
We had three scholars from Indonesia, one from Bali and two from Jakarta. Dr. Budya Pradipta from the University of Indonesia, Jakarta presented a paper on Ramayana as a Vehicle for the Dissemination of Universal Humanitarian Values. Dr. Wahyati Pradipta, a professor at the University of Indonesia, Jakarta presented a paper on Sita's attitude of Silent Rebellion. She compared Sita's situation to that of the current president of Indonesia. Her analysis indicated that the president launched a silent rebellion against the ex-president to accomplish her objectives in providing Indonesia a healthy political administration.
Dr. Somvir, another scholar from Udayana University in Bali, Indonesia talked about the Indonesian Ramayana. Dr. Somvir is a Sanskrit scholar and has worked extensively on Indonesian Ramayana.
Dr. U. Kyaw Zwa from the University of Culture in Myanmar (Burma) presented a paper on the role of Ramayana in Myanmar. Burma has currently several versions of Ramayana, and Dr. Zwa is responsible for developing a standard Ramayana version, which may be used for developing curricula in schools as well as a standard for the performing arts.
Thailand presenters included Dr. Sunthana, Mr. Phubest Suntharanund and Mrs. Jutarut Suntharanund, who are the Ramayana Institute's local experts on Thailand Ramayana. Dr. Sunthana discussed Ramayana in Thailand, whereas Mr. Phubest Suntharanund and Mrs. Jutarut Suntharanund talked about the Thai mask play, "Khon."
Svetlana Radlovic-Dinges from France talked about different Ramayanas in France, and Eva De Clercq from the University of Ghent in Belgium provided an analysis of different Jain Ramayanas.
The scholars from India mostly spoke about Ramayanas in Southeast Asia. Padma Shri Dr. Satya Vrat Shastri and Dr. Amarjiva Lochan talked about the popularity of Ramayana in Thailand. Dr. Dinesh Saklani from the HNB Garhwal University of India provided an in-depth view into his research on the impact of Ramayana on the society and culture of central Himalaya.
Ms. Sangeeta Isvaran, who represented the Asia Fellows Program (India), provided and an Analysis of the Portrayal of the Ideal Woman and the Evil Vamp in the classical dance forms of Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and India. Her interactive methods that involved the audience in her presentations, in the conference as well as in the Sunday performance were highly appreciated.
The Ramayana performance and workshop began at 11:30 a.m. and lasted until 6:30 p.m. There where dances from India, Indonesia, and Thailand, and also a very well-received shadow play by India.
The Indian dances included three different styles, Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi and Kathak. Bharatnatyam was performed by Ami Goswami, a DeKalb High School student. Tanvee Hathivala of Natya Dance Theatre presented a simplified version of Bharatnatyam depicting Rama's story. Kuchipudi was performed by Uma Vyjayanthimala Kallkuri of Nrityamala Dance Institute, Bloomington, Illinois, who through her skills demonstrated the coronation of Rama. Kathak was performed by the Anila Sinha Foundation directed by Sandhya Desai. There was an additional Bharatnatyam performance by a Northern Illinois University student.
Sangeeta Isvaran, a research scholar of the Asia Fellows Program gave a workshop involving over 30 audience members. Her workshop highlighted Ancient Ways and Modern Directions. The children of the Hindu Satsang Organization did a Ramayana shadow play depicting Rama's "Boat Journey" with lights and shadows accompanied by background lyrics.
The Indonesian performance was done by the community and the Consulate General of Indonesia in Chicago with about 20 performers, who were mostly students from Chicago-area schools and colleges. The styles depicted were Balinese and Javanese. The Thailand dance was also very interesting. This was a presentation by the Thai Cultural and Fine Arts Institute in Chicago and was directed by Jutarut Suntharanund.
There were a total of nine items in the entire performance, and each item was excellent in itself and was immensely enjoyed by the audience.
The Ramayana Fair also featured several exhibitions and foods from India, Indonesia and Thailand.
The conference was co-sponsored by the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Northern Illinois University and the International Ramayana Institute of North America. The program was made possible in part by (1) a grant from the Illinois Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Illinois General Assembly and (2) the Infinity Foundation.
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The Infinity Foundation and Northern Illinois University, supported by the International Ramayana Institute, is organizing a conference and fair featuring the ancient epic, Ramayana, September 21-23, 2001 at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois.
The audience will also experience a unique blend of four very diverse dance styles from Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, and India during the Ramayana Family Fair on September 23, 2001.
The individual sessions on September 21 and 22 will focus on the following subjects delivered by learned literarians and historians. Over 60 scholars from 12 different countries have submitted proposals to participate in the conference.
The Ramayana Fair includes diverse Ramayana-related performances followed by an opportunity for the audience to see the details of the costumes, music, dance movements, facial expressions, acting and presentation. There will also be workshops on making the Ramayana-related paintings, sculptures, poetry, video, audio, music and other types of art in addition to the dance. The fair will be an event where the audience will participate with family, including children. The workshop will be held on Sunday, September 23, 2001 and will be an all-day event.
For information on conference registration, contact:
Julia Lamb, Outreach Coordinator
Center for Southeast Asian Studies
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL 60115
Phone: (815) 753-1595
This program is made possible in part by a grant from the Illinois Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Illinois General Assembly and The Infinity Foundation.
To download a registration form in .pdf format, click here
News Release: International Ramayana Institute of North America Fact Sheet
To facilitate and promote the exchange of the literary, artistic, cultural and scientific aspects of Ramayana among different countries worldwide.
To hold, support and encourage worldwide:
Ramayana has acceptability and a proven track record in several countries worldwide, including Bhutan, Cambodia, Fiji, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Surinam, Thailand, Trinidad Tobago and Vietnam (Ramayana Countries).
Moslems, Buddhists and Hindus have voluntarily accepted Ramayana's message. Ramayana promotes good human values through multinational participants.
Ramayana describes the life story of Rama and has been the basis of classical dances in several countries. It promotes human values and has inspired poets, writers, sculptors, painters, musicians, dancers, puppeteers and singers worldwide.
There is a universal need to find a unifying factor that brings back the basic values of family life. The assimilation of Ramayana beliefs in Western culture will achieve this by stressing the commonality of the ideas and values.
The Institute reports to the Ramayana Committee. The Institute's Board of Trustees is selected from the participating Asian countries.
Newal K. Agnihotri
799 Roosevelt Rd. - Bldg. 6, Ste. 208
Glen Ellyn, IL 60137
Phone: (630) 858-6161, X14
Fax: (630) 858-8787