‘Epic’ Stories….

I am hearing the word ‘epic’ a lot now a days. I am also studying epic poetry in this semester. Hence the inspiration for this post.

Indian Mythology is one of the richest in the world. I have always been ,and still am, very fascinated with mythological stories. There are said to be 33 crore Gods in Hindu mythology. So you realize the number of stories associated with them. Obviously I don’t know all of them but I do know some. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are two of the greatest epics in Hindu mythology and most Indian kids read about them or listen to stories from the two epics in their childhoods. My childhood wasn’t very different. But in the past couple of years these stories have somehow become more pronounced for me.

I haven’t read the Mahabharata in its entirety as yet but I have read two versions of it. One is Karna’s story, a book titled ‘Mrityunjay’ by Shivaji Sawant (after reading this book, Karna has become one of my most favourite characters in the epic. Even if he is a tragic hero.) and the other is Mahabharata from Draupadi’s perspective, titled ‘The Palace of Illusions’ by Chitra Banerjee Diwakaruni. These two books have brought The Mahabharata back in my life. Now I can’t wait to read the entire original epic. The same has happened with The Ramayana. We have to study different versions of the Ramayana for our second semester and so I have just finished reading Ramayana by C.Rajagopalachari. But, where the Ramayana is concerned, it is seen that there are various versions of it. People in South India believe something different than the people in North India etc. The basic story is the same but people see it from different perspectives and hence the different versions. Some communities even consider Ravana as the real hero of the epic. Infact, I am also reading ‘Asura’ by Anand Neelakantan. It is the story of the Ramayana but from the asura’s perspective i.e. Ravana’s perspective. Should be an interesting read.

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These epics are so fascinating because Indian culture closely follows them. These texts are considered very important even in the study of religion. For me as a literature student the text is not , particularly, a religious text but a text which has to be studied to understand Indian customs, traditions and beliefs better. It’s really surprising though that having lived in India my whole life, there are so many things that I am not aware of. Last week we attended a seminar where a professor of religious studies had come from a Canadian University. He knew so many stories about Hindu mythology and he had a very good knowledge of so many things concerning religions. It was surprising because he knew a lot more than us, inspite of not being Indian. But, I don’t think the problem is us precisely. The thing about living in India and reading about mythology is that one tends to be overwhelmed by the amount of literature available for reading. There are so many languages, so many religions, so many beliefs and customs that it becomes quite impossible to be aware about all of them. 

We are constantly hearing about different customs from all over the country. Keeping track is tricky. But that’s the beauty of it, I suppose. Right from a young age kids in India are taught about religions and some people would look at it as discriminating but I think it helps in understanding people because, after all, the kids have to grow up and live in a secular country. An understanding and tolerance of all religions is essential in their upbringing. That is why the epics are enjoyed by all kinds of people. Personally for me The Mahabharata is more fascinating because of its characters and the complex story-line. But the recent re-reading of The Ramayana has brought it into focus once again. I am very excited about reading more about it.

These epics are, for me, a way of reconnecting to many things…my childhood, my culture, my country. They are helping in the understanding of various things in a country as diverse as mine. They have stories which, though written centuries ago, seem relevant even today because they are, essentially, stories about people. 

That’s it for this week. But, I will definitely write about any more interesting stories I read. That reminds me, I have not written a single post about books! I can’t imagine how , but it’s surprising considering how I am constantly reading some book or the other. Maybe I will write about it in my next post. And feel free to write about any interesting perspectives about these epics that you might have in the comments. It’ll be very interesting to read.

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