“So long as the mountains and the seas exist on earth,
The sacred history of the Ramayan shall endure
And you will enjoy a double life in Heaven and on Earth”
These immortal words of Lord Brahma to the sage Valmiki never appeared more apt. Valmiki’s Ramayan has been the brain behind thousand different adaptations that prevail across the world. In how many ways can you tell the same story? When it comes to a tale as epic, mythical and charming as the Ramayan, the answer is not finite. Every different interpretation becomes a unique way of telling and receiving the story. It is really fascinating to explore the various enchanting 21st century renditions across the world of what continues to be India’s most loved fable.
What remains constant from the ancient Ramlila performance in Old Delhi to the Kakawin Ramayana, which is an old Javanese rendering, and the several others, is the story itself. The focus is on different forms in which a story can be told rather than the differences within the story-telling itself. The distinctiveness of the Ramayan includes its ability to speak to and engulf everyone who comes across it by the richness of its meaning and depth of its diction. What can be clearly seen in each of its re-productions is a coalition of Indian and Western cultures which makes it more relatable to outsiders. Such renderings make the age-old epic more relevant in the globalized world today.
Across the world, there are more than 300 versions of Ramayan. Each of these versions is slightly more distinct than the other. Not only are these versions in different languages from across the world, but also there are different interpretations, perceptions, outlook, different way of looking at the same story that creates the variety. Ramayan may be looked at and retold in a completely different way form Ravan’s perspective, or from Sita’s or Hanuman’s. Each character brings its own uniqueness in the story which goes on to become a different version.
The Ramayan has been through many hands. Several contemporary renderings of the Ramayan have received critical acclaim. One such personal favorite is Ashok Banker’s eight-volume imaginative graphic novel of Ramayan. Seen in a complete new light, Banker’s version comes into its own. It reads more like any modern novel complete with love, betrayal, jealousy, violence, magical reprieves, et al. Banker has actually turned the original story on its head. And yet he manages to give us a glimpse of every emotion experienced in the original Valmiki version.
So why does Banker’s and other similar adulterated versions still assume relevance today? Various historians and authors ‘used’ the Ramayan to guide masses at large towards the path of greater good — the path that Lord Ram had created. Each of them made a few changes to the story based on prevalent social conditions. But the base, essence of Valmiki’s original Ramayan, never changes. Few have changed the story based on their imagination and the way they perceive Lord Ram and their own devotion towards him. It was high time then that Ramayan was told for a more modern audience and Ashok Banker and several others of his league have done a good job of it.
Modern oral adaptations and translations of Ramayan have helped deepen the learnings for society irrespective of their inclination towards Indian history and culture. Kahaani festival wishes to be the carrier of such good literature and convey to kids the message in age-old epics in a way they could not otherwise relate to. Graphic novels, stage narrations, performances, animations are closer to today’s generation than ancient Vedic texts. An amalgamation of the two worlds coupled with the creative geniuses of modern playwrights make younger audiences believe in the teachings of Lord Ram. Wouldn’t you want to go through the 14 years of vanvaas again with ideologies, learnings and interpretations anew?
– Milind Gandhi