Tuesday, 6 December 2016

An Asian Oedipus complex?

By Vittorio Roveda @ (Copyright text and pictures)

An Asian Oedipus complex?

This paper examines the implications of Dubhi’s parricide (killing one’s own father) starting from the textual and visual narratives pf the Reamker-Ramakien in Cambodia and Thailand

In the Valmiki Ramayana, the story of Dundubhi[1] - called Dubhi or Tupi in parts of Southeastern Asia -  starts in chapters 9-10 and ends in chapter 11 of Book IV (Kishkindakanda) when Valmiki mentions Mayavi, a titanic demon (asura) stronger than thousand elephants, who, on account of a woman, challenged Bali (also known as Valin[2]) to a fight. From chapter 11 Valmiki changes the name of this asura from Mayavi into Dundubhi, describing him as a giant buffalo (father of Dubhi).
According to the Indian Ramayana, the many names buffalo king, should be Dundubhi, who, on hearing of the existence of a male young buffalo named Dubhi, approached him furious, being a male competitor who could take  “his wives?” [female, cow buffaloes]and put an end to his sexual primacy.
The story of the young buffalo Dundubhi from the Ramayana was conflated and narrated in a more colorful way in the Cambodian Ramakerti and later in the Thai Ramakien. In time it became so popular to be depicted on murals around a royal temples of Phnom Penh and Bangkok (where Dundubhi became known as Torapi).
In the Ramakerti or Reamker the story of the buffalo Dundubhi occupies entire pages of the text. Here the protagonist is simply called Dubhi (or Tupi). For the first time the reader is told about his father (chapter IV, ibid.82-87) being a gigantic white buffalo king, a tyrant in the region, who is so violent and powerful, and that he kills all male buffaloes, even if sons, who may become competitors in the control of  his herd of female buffaloes. the mother who gave secretly birth to the young buffalo named Dubhi dared to hide him in the deep forest; he grew fast and extremely strong, practicing blowing his horns against the largest trees of the forest and sharpening them against the mountain rocks. 
In the Cambodian Reamker more details are added to the basic story: for instance poetic descriptions of the young Dubhi in his new life after the elimination of his father, when as the leader the buffalo’s cow tribe  he is proud of his ‘virility’ (verse 1910). The sexual innuendos are evident.
The references to the sexuality of Dhubi are strong. It is an instinct that pushes him to kill the father to possess his father’s female heard that included his mother. Killing father to acquire mother is part of the Oedipus complex.
The story of Dubhi is also reported in the LAV, short for Lpoek Aǹgkor Vat, a poem composed by Pang in the 17th century. The LAV was meant to be chanted by a bard guiding visitors and pilgrims through the corridors of Angkor Wat and during festivals (Bizot 1989: 27). The poem’s composer admitted that the subject of his story was not his invention but it existed before as sparse material that he had gathered and put in order (Khing 1985:114).
In our case, it is interesting that strophes 256-266 that were chanting the fight of Dubhi with his  father who he killed “humbly (Pou,1977). The chanting the myth of Dubhi, supports my conviction that all the narratives of mainland Southeast Asia (Including Buddhist) had been chanted long before being written down. The importance of traveling storytellers, bards, has been underestimated so far.

The Dubhi’s story is very revealing when seen within a psychoanalytical context and it provides a psychological picture of ancient peoples of Southeast Asia.
Viewed with the eye of western psychoanalysis, the Dubhi/Torapi situation is that of the Asian Oedipus who kills his father to take possession of his wife/wives including his mother. The Oedipus complex means a child’s unconscious dynamic repression to have sexual relations with the parent of the opposite sex (i.e. males attracted to their mothers, and females attracted to their fathers) along with hostile jealous feelings towards the parent of the same sex. In psychoanalysis, the young Dubhi comparing the size of his own hoothprints with those of father, may be seen as comparison of penises. 
In Greek mythology, Oedipus was born to King Laius and Queen Jocastas. He was doomed to a terrible fate because he unknowingly killed his father and married his mother. Oedipus represents two enduring themes of Greek myth and drama: the flawed nature of humanity and an individual's powerlessness against the course of destiny in a harsh universe
In our case, the triangle Oedipus-king Laius-Queen Jocasta is replaced by the triangle king father (Torapa, the elder buffalo)-, his wife (queen of female buffaloes) - and Dubhi.
Overt and deliberate violence of the son against father is evident. In the Reamker-Ramakien narrative, the parricidal crime is rationalized to deny such aggression by making the murder of the father to look like an act of justice: putting an end to the father’s tyranny and exclusive rights on the female buffaloes and self-sacrifice (Dubhi risking his life against the mighty father), he was ready to sacrifice himself, which would be acceptable in the Asian tradition. The assertion of power and fulfillment of sexuality are viewed as boons to be granted or withheld by the father, the mighty one. Power has to be obtained only through absolute submission to him, and any attempt from the son to assert his own rights results in death and destruction.
Visual narratives of this event appeared on murals, in Cambodia at the Silver Pagoda, (about 1890-1904) and in Thai murals and Thai lacquer perhaps from the end of the XVII century (Boisselier1976) and fully developed on the gallery of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok. In Laos the story is known in the modern carved doors of a monastery of Luang Prabang. (Roveda 2015: 196, Fig.140).


Bizot François, Reamker, L’amour symbolique de Ream and Seta, Publications de l’EFEO, Vol. CLV, Paris, 1989, 148 pages165 photos
Boisselier Jean, Thai Painting, Kodansha International, 1976
Giteau M., Les peintures du Ramayana cambodgien au monastère de Vat Bho (Siem Reap), Indologica Taurinensis, 25, Torino, 1999 : 179-245, 35 illustrations
Giteau M., Les peintures khmères de l’Ecole de l’Okna Tep Nimit Nak, Udaya, Phom Penh, 2003 :39-44, 7 figs.
Goldman Robert P., Fathers, sons and gurus: oedipal conflict in the Sanskrit epics, Journal of Indian Philosophy, 6, 1978
Goldman R.P., The Ramayana of Valmiki, Princeton Library of Asian Translations, 1984
Groslier George, Soixante-seize dessins cambodgiens, Art et Archéologie Khmeres, Vol.I, Paris 1923 : 331-385, many illustrations.
Jacob Judith, Reamker (Ramakerti), the Cambodian version of the Ramayana, The Royal Asiatic society, London 1986, 320 pages
Khing Hoc Dy, Lpek Angkor Vat, Association culturelle “Pierres d’Angkor”, Choisy le Roy, France, 1985, 120 pages.
Martini Francois, En marge au Ramayana Cambodgien, BEFEO, XXXVIII, Paris, 1938: 285-295
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Pech Tum Travel, Sbek Thom, Khmer Shadow Theatre, Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University and UNESCO, 1995, 190 pages,153 figures
Pou Saveros, Reamakerti (XVI-XVII siècles), Publications de l’ EFEO, Vol.CX, Paris, 1977, 299 pages
Roveda Vittorio, In the shadow of Rama, River Books, Bangkok, 2014

Bangkok, September 2016


Fig.1 – This panel is from the Silver Pagoda of Phnom Penh, painted by members of thee workshop of Tep Nimit Mak from 1895-2004. The panel shown here depicts the entire story of Dubhi. On the center left is a group of female buffaloes and their youngsters grazing. On the right of the tree, a blue-black buffalo (identified as Dubhi) kills a light brown and white skin buffalo (his father). Then to the right of the picture, the proud Dudfhi goes to confront the king of the monkeys, Bali (or Valin), painted green.
The landscape, rather terse by the alteration of colour in time, has a western perspective; western  influence is shown also by the way of painting trees and bushes.

Fig.2 – Continuation of the story showing Bali holding a sword, having accepted the defiance to fight the monster buffalo. After one day of fighting, shown on the mural by Bali on top of Dubhi (failing to disgorge him), it continues the following day (painted of the chronological sequence) in a cave, to the disadvantage of the massive Dubhi, who eventually is killed by Bali.

Fir.3 – WAt Bo Kraom (Siem Reap).A painted-stuccoed relief showing the target of Dubhi sexual urge with the queen of Buffalos, his mother. On the right background, are possibly shown Dubhi confronting his father (lighter mantle), king of the buffaloes, who is soon killed. It happens in a marshy landscape with clear western perspective. This ‘pastiche’ of stucco mixed with cement glued to the wall and then finished and painted, is the product of a few construction builders, failing to be artists in 2006.

Fig.4. Monastery of Wat Bo (Siem Reap). Southern Wall upper register (see Roveda 2015: 106). On this panel the painter framed the fight Dubhi-Bali in a sort of cave (with domed ceiling) inside a slender building. The figure of Sugriva, guarding the exit is almost totally deface. Early 20th century.

Fig.5 – Wat Sutat (Bangkok). This triptych hung on the main walls of Wat Sutat, all represents Ramayanic
stories. The painting on the left shows Bali fighting the black buffalo Thorapi (Dubhi) in a cavern.
Painting on reverse glass, probably early 20th century. Dubhi, better known in Thailand as Thorapi, is usuallypainted with black skin (at the Emeralds Buddha’s gallery, etc.).

[1] Valmiki gives a confused, contradictory genealogy of Dundubhi; its discussion is beyond the scope of this paper.
[2] See Dawson J., A classical dictionary of Hindu  mythology & religion, Rupa paperback, Calcutta, 1995)

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