Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translations is a 1991 essay by A.K. Ramanujan, scholar and man of letters from South India. In it Ramanujan surveys the wide range of Ramayana stories extant in Asia. The essay came to my attention because it was just dropped (after its inclusion in 2006) from the B.A. History (Hons.) course at Delhi University, owing to protests by right-wing Hindutva types who don't like the idea of so many Ramayanas, including some that, according to Ramanujan, have Rama and Sita as siblings.
[clip] ... This story is usually told to suggest that for every such Rama there is a Ramayana. The number of Ramayanas and the range of their influence in South and Southeast Asia over the past twenty-five hundred years or more are astonishing. Just a list of languages in which the Rama story is found makes one gasp: Annamese, Balinese, Bengali, Cambodian, Chinese, Gujarati, Javanese, Kannada, Kashmiri, Khotanese, Laotian, Malaysian, Marathi, Oriya, Prakrit, Sanskrit, Santali, Sinhalese, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Tibetan—to say nothing of Western languages. Through the centuries, some of these languages have hosted more than one telling of the Rama story. Sanskrit alone contains some twenty-five or more tellings belonging to various narrative genres (epics, kavyas or ornate poetic compositions, puranas or old mythological stories, and so forth). If we add plays, dance-dramas, and other performances, in both the classical and folk traditions, the number of Ramayanas grows even larger. To these must be added sculpture and bas-reliefs, mask plays, puppet plays and shadows plays, in all the many South and Southeast Asian cultures." Camille Bulcke (1950), a student of the Ramayana, counted three hundred tellings. It’s no wonder that even as long ago as the fourteenth century, Kumaravyasa, a Kannada poet, chose to write a Mahabharata, because he heard the cosmic serpent which upholds the earth groaning under the burden of Ramayana poets ... In this paper, indebted for its data to numerous previous translators and scholars, I would like to sort out for myself, and I hope for others, how these hundreds of tellings of a story in different cultures, languages, and religious traditions relate to each other: what gets translated, transplanted, transposed.
More here. Read Amardeep Singh's defense of the essay here and watch a heartening protest at DU. A paradoxical effect of DU's decision will be an increase in the popularity of this essay, and bringing it to the attention of new audiences like me who had never heard of it before.