The Story of Rama (the Ramayana), about a prince and his long hero’s journey, is one of the world’s great epics. It began in India and spread among many countries throughout Asia. Its text is a major thread in the culture, religion, history, and literature of millions. The people of Bali have long practiced rituals, music, dance, and storytelling; made crafts; and used artifacts to tell this ancient story. They also combined Hinduism with their local beliefs about the spiritual powers of animals, creating Balinese Hinduism and their own interpretations of the Story of Rama.
The series of events depicted in the scroll (left) comes from a northeastern Indian version of the Story of Rama (the Ramayana). As is typical of scrolls from Bengal, in northeastern India, the scenes unfold in a linear fashion. This painted scroll would have been carried from village to village by a storyteller-priest who who would narrate the stories in public performances. The scroll was unrolled scene by scene as the storyteller’s narrative unfolded. Such paintings not only served as visual aids but simultaneously affirmed the existence of the mythic world they represented. Moreover, the recitation of religious stories and the audience’s participation through listening and viewing were means by which worshipers could demonstrate their piety and accrue religious merit.
Especially for Teachers: Through the study of The Story of Rama (The Ramayana) as well as a broader view of the arts and culture of Bali, students can experience how the literary, visual, and performing arts can provide a lens through which to understand the world—and to reflect on their own identities and world views. Prompt your students to explore how artists communicate events and characters with the use of the Lesson: Epic Story Scrolls (Grades 5-8). In this lesson, students will work in groups to observe and describe scenes in the scroll, then compare the context of the scroll’s use with those of scrolls illustrating other epics. They will then create a biographical scroll from the perspective of a character in The Story of Rama (The Ramayana). View The Abduction of Sita (an Excerpt from the Ramayana) video with your students to provide additional context for this lesson.