The Good Valmiki

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“Whose lore in words of wisdom flows.

Whose constant care and chief delight,

were scripture and ascetic rite.

The good Valmiki.”

  Mythology was never my subject. Though I have always loved fiction with few fantasy elements, for me relatable content always appealed more than the delusionary world of the Indian ‘Gods’. But my thinking changed when I realised the value and belief system I have grown up over the years is a result of the hugely popular ancient epics. I slowly started developing interest in the fables involving Indian traditions and God-like characters. It was then that I came to comprehend the ancient oral storytelling tradition in India and how it assumes greater importance in Indian civilisation today. Valmiki – the astute storyteller – in ancient India has recited several Sanskrit poems and ballads. Among his variety of literatures, the Ramayan still remains a tradition in oral storytelling. It was first composed as a unified poem – a collection of several verses. This unique style by Valmiki made the Ramayan perfect for public oral recitation and performance – in the form of plays and musicals. For eons, Ramayan has been orally narrated in events and festivals across India. The epic saga has been adapted in various languages and cultures – storytellers and poets have blended in and retold the story in their own regional interpretations. For kids though, grandmother’s version remains most special and one with several life lessons that shape their belief system. What makes Ramayan, for most Indian kids, the most evoked oral bedtime story ever narrated? Here is my view – first, it is a charming story which makes it fairly easy to digest. Akin to the modern day fantasy fiction pieces, amidst flying monkey-headed men; multiple arrows splitting out of the single arrow shot by Lord Rama; ten-headed demons; a monster who only sleeps and eats, a rather familiar story unfolds – a handsome prince weds a beautiful princess, but is exiled by a cunning mother to the forest, where a demon abducts the princess and the prince with all his might and troop wages a war against the kingdom of the demon, defeats him to get back the princess to a grand welcome back home. Perfect fairy tale for kids, isn’t it? As we delve deeper, Ramayan endorses cultural values important for our culture –these are of importance to kids even now and the symbolisms are not lost on them. Don’t you all agree? Do you remember how as children during renditions of the epic, we would all feel our chests expand with sibling pride when Bharat refuses to sit on the throne and carries back Ram’s shoes to be placed on it? Do write to us with your ‘Ramayan experience’! Ramayan has currently raised questions that have resulted in radical reinterpretations of characters and events – which, according to me, are as important now as in the time they were written. Do you agree? It is evident Ramayan historically encompassed both these valuable attributes of oral storytelling that makes it the most popular among kids – an engaging story and a medium of imparting disciplined cultural adherence. Through the Kahaani festival, a similar attempt is being made to convey the importance of value systems and encouraging kids to broaden their creative boundaries. The idea therefore is not just to gather for a collection of stories, but something more personal – to be the ‘good’ Valmiki – to help shape philosophies and ideologies. As rightly said by Rudyard Kipling, “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” Beg to differ?   - Milind Gandhi