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Good and evil? Dynamic Opposites in the Story of Rama (lesson)

Hanuman’s encounters with demons on his journey to Lanka

Hanuman’s encounters with demons on his journey to Lanka, from the Balinese version of the Story of Rama, approx. 1900–1950, by I Gusti Nyoman Lempad, (Indonesian, 1862–1978). Ink on paper. Gift of Karen A. Signell, 1998.90.


Students brainstorm the qualities of good and evil and draw conclusions about the Balinese concept of “dynamic” or balanced opposites. Then, students will relate the idea of “dynamic opposites” in the Ramayana (Story of Rama) to present-day situations by identifying a current problem, creating a visual identify for their own pair of opposing characters, and scripting a dialogue.

45-60 minutes
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Content Standards (California):
HSS 3.2.1: Describe national identities, religious beliefs, customs, and various folklore traditions.
HSS 6.5.7: Discuss important aesthetic and intellectual traditions (e.g., Sanskrit literature, including the Bhagavad Gita; medicine; metallurgy; and mathematics, including Hindu-Arabic numerals and the zero).
VPA/VA 3.3.4: Identify and describe objects of art from different parts of the world observed in visits to a museum or gallery (e.g., puppets, masks, containers).
VPA/VA 4.3.1: 3.1 Describe how art plays a role in reflecting life (e.g., in photography, quilts, architecture).
VPA/VA 5.4.2: Compare the different purposes of a specific culture for creating art.

Author: Sarah Willner, Music Integration Specialist.

Artwork: Hanuman’s encounters with demons on his journey to Lanka, from the Balinese version of the Story of Rama; Worksheets: Brainstorm Your Characters Graphic Organizer; Dialogue Your Dilemma Graphic Organizer


  1. Explain that people in Bali believe that they must pay attention to both good and evil to keep the world in balance. The struggle—and story—of good and evil never ends; this continual interaction is what makes the world go around. The main conflict in the Story of Rama is Rama and his cohort fighting against Ravana. But this is also a struggle for Rama’s self-knowledge of himself as an avatar of Vishnu. Rama must constantly defeat Ravana. The people in Bali view this idea that noble and evil are necessary for the universe to have balance as “dynamic opposites.”
  2. What are some examples of dynamic opposites? (day/night, yin/yang, ocean/mountain).
  3. Show students Hanuman’s encounters with demons on his journey to Lanka. Ask if they can identify what part of the story is depicted and provide evidence. Then, discuss who looks noble, who looks evil, and provide evidence based on what they see. Explain that Kumbhakarna didn’t want to fight against Rama, but chose to out of loyalty for his brother, Ravana. Ask students to share examples of a time when they got in trouble for doing something they thought was the right thing to do.
  4. Brainstorm the characteristics of a noble and evil character. Ask: How would a noble character in our culture look and act? How would an evil character in our culture look and act?
  5. Distribute Brainstorm Your Characters. Have the students—singly or in pairs—identify a problem in the world today. Their characters will be part of this struggle. Then, have students design their own pair of opposing characters based on the problem they identified.
  6. Have students each choose one character to develop visually for their shadow puppet, and start sketching their character to illustrate the characteristics expressed in the graphic organizer. Students can work alone or in pairs.
  7. Distribute Dialogue Your Dilemma and have pairs write some dialogue between their characters talking about their conflict. Write at least two lines for each character. Make sure they are talking about the problem in some way!