How did Ramayana and Mahabharata influence the art and culture of India?

By Sunil Kumar

The Ramayana and Mahabharata are synonymous with the art and culture of India. They have had a greater impact on the Indian mindscape as billions of people have been affected and many have lived their lives based on whatever is intrinsically noble in these great epics.

This detailed map shows the locations of Kingd...

Visit This detailed map shows the locations of Kingdoms mentioned in the Indian epics. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The names of Rama and Krishna can be found in every nook and cranny of the subcontinent; even where they’ve been obliterated; for example the city of Lahore is named after Rama’s sons.

The South Indian/Kalinga inspired kingdoms in South-East Asia(including Cambodia, South Vietnam, Laos, Java, Bali and even the Phillipines at one time) built huge temple complexes; and the legal system, language evolved largely due to Indian influence; also based on ideas from these epics. The Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej was called Rama the ninth; and the former capital was Ayutthaya; a derivation of Ayodhya.

English: Ramayana Javanese ballet dance depict...

Visit English: Ramayana Javanese ballet dance depicting Rama and Shinta (upper right) accompanied by Lakshmana (bottom left) during their exile in Dandaka Forest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As for the subcontinent itself; numerous dance styles; theatrical traditions; art and sculpture were based on themes originally mentioned in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Ways of computation, arithmetic and mathematics owe their origin to yagna altars mentioned in Vedic texts and the epics. The Arabs who first came in contact with Indian thought; the decimal system and the profound concept of the zero in Sind; translated many Sanskrit works into Persian and Arabic and called mathematics “hindisat”(Indian art). This traveled to Europe and after the Middle Ages; catalyzed modern science.

Kalidasa’s “Kumarasambhava” and “Raghuvamsa” was based on the epic. A lot of Buddhist and Jain art draws on Hindu idioms as this was the base of the wider Indian cultural context and connect. There are non-Hindu versions of the Ramayana; including tribal, Buddhist and Jain. War formations(vyuhas) were also originally based on epic narratives; before the wider Western world-view gained global currency.

Tribal, folk, contemporary art and culture draws inspiration from the epics. The gods are interwoven with the soul of the Indian ethos for millennia.


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