Amish explores legends of Ram still alive in the subcontinent

By Anand Venkitachalam New Delhi, April 10 : Going on an adventurous, exciting journey and exploring the legend of one of the greatest epics which is ingrained in the very fabric of the oldest civilization in the world, coming on discovery+, author and host Amish Tripathi walks back in time and goes physically from place to place to unravel the story of the Valmiki Ramayana in the Legends of the Ramayana. In an exclusive interview to , the host and acclaimed author answered various questions regarding this documentary, telling us about his experience while walking the footsteps of none other than Lord Ram himself, modern day politics surrounding the epic, the way it deals with topics of gender, how it can add value to existing chain of knowledge among adolescents and young adults, new ideas and future projects and the overall impact of the show in the minds of the average Indian citizen. Tracing the footsteps of “Purushottam” Ram, Amish Tripathi and his crew embarked from the sacred land of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh and went forward to uncover all the different locations mentioned in the Valmiki text, such as the forests of Chitrakoot in Madhya Pradesh to the land of Nashik in Maharashtra. Going from North to South the crew also went to Lepakshi in Andhra Pradesh to Kishkindha in Karnataka to the Ram Setu in Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu. Then crossing the sea just like Lord Ram and his vanara army did 5,000 years ago, though this time not on the floating stones of the coast of Ram Setu, the crew went to the golden land of Lanka, the present day island nation of Sri Lanka and the land of the King Ravana. They explored the temple in Chilaw where Lord Ram prayed to Lord Shiva in order to get rid of Brahmahatya Dosha as he had killed king Ravana, who was a Brahmin, to the land of Sigiriya the capital of the Lankan king. They further went to Ella, Trincomalee, and Nuwara Eliya. Featuring only three episodes the documentary provided a heartfelt and passionate exploration into the different facets of the Ramayana, Lord Ram and how we are still the children of his Ram Rajya carrying forward the ancient rituals of our ancestors and celebrating his return to his country, when good triumphed over evil. But beyond just the epic tale we all know, Ramayana and the very name of Lord Ram is an institution in and of itself and it runs the many aspects of our life that is way beyond just religion, as it goes from political, social, cultural, philosophical and ultimately civilizational as after all India is the golden land of Lord Ram. Today, in modern day Indian politics, the name of Ram is a key factor and it has been displayed many times such as in the case of making India a Ram Rajya and a Hindu Rashtra once again or most notably, the case of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya which was returned to the nation after 500 years. When asked if Amish Tripathi would be exploring the spiritual, mythological and historical aspects of Lord Ram at a time when mandates are won in the name of Purushottam, Amish said “I am not so sure that I should be commenting on political matters. The thing is that Lord Ram is beyond politics, Lord Ram is social, religious, cultural.” “Lord Ram’s life animates and teaches Indians across all religions, all castes, all comm ties and I think that one of the reasons why our ancient culture remains alive is because we remain deeply attached to our stories, the primary epics that animate our culture are through the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. “So essentially what we are trying to do with this series is explore different facets of the Ramayana.” He then went on to add that the show explores several aspects of the Ramayana which the public are not necessarily aware of. The Ramayana as many know has a way of dealing with sensitive topics such as gender, and while our sensibilities are different today, 5,000 years ago they were not so ‘modern’. And yet our sense of values have not so fully changed, as the Ramayana and its philosophies have continued to define us to this day instilling in us certain principles that have come to define the grandness of the Indian civilization as a whole. Approaching the gender disparity as has always existed at all times, Amish has his own interpretation of the topic in the time of great epic. He gave a rather interesting answer “You know this question is asked especially on the Agni Pariksha and I do have an interpretation on that and it is something that will get discussed in my books rather than the show. “Agni Pariksha is discussed in the Ramayana as well. To say that there are gender disparities I would argue against that you know because you can say that what happened to Emperor Dashrath was unfair and Queen Kaikeyi was the powerful one in that. You can say that Mandodari ji was very powerful, you can say that Sursa was very powerful. So you know… there are powerful female characters and there are powerful male characters, and there are powerless female characters and there are powerless male characters. “It’s a story and characters have a different point of view. So, one should not project one particular character’s experience to be the message of the entire story of the Ramayana or the Mahabharata.” “Secondly, I would urge you not to make your opinion on what the Ramayana’s message is based on a 1980s television series or even my books. Read the original Valmiki texts. “So for example, if the Lakshman Rekha is seen as a part of putting restraints on women, I should say that in the original Valmiki Ramayana there is no Lakshman Rekha. What most Indians think of the Lakshman Rekha is actually from a 1980s television serial, and the first time the Lakshman Rekha is mentioned in any text is in the 16th century Ramcharitmanas composed by Goswami Tulsidas ji and even there it is not put in the way like it is in the television serial. “I say this with complete respect to the TV series, Ramanand Sagar ji did a good job of it, but if you want to explore the messaging of the stories of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, then I would suggest to read the original texts of the Ramayana the critical edition of the Mahabharata. Good translations are available Bibek Debroy for example has done wonderful translations.” A documentary’s attempts are in the end to add value to the existing chain of knowledge, but for such an ancient tale which is so integral to us, many adolescents and young adults have forgotten big chunks of it. So how and if the documentary added anything additional to the existing chain of knowledge regarding the Ramayana, Amish said “I don’t know whether we are good enough to be adding to knowledge, but the way we see it, it is giving you different insights. We are not telling you the story of the Ramayana for which Indian does not know the story of the Ramayana. There is a wonderful line: No Indian hears the Ramayana for the first time, we are born with the story”. “What this documentary series does is give you insights into different facets of the Ramayana and texts which you may not be aware of….. “ He illustrated a few like the Ram namees who display another level of devotion to Lord Ram by covering their entire bodies with the name of Lord Ram or the coral reef rocks off the coast of Ram Setu which were powerful enough to load bear and yet light enough to be picked up by anyone. Ramayana’s importance in our society cannot be understated given its connection to our civilizational roots and how important of a tale it is for every Indian. Walking in the footsteps of Lord Ram must truly have been an altogether que experience, and when we approached Amish regarding his own experience he said “It felt amazingly special. You know our crew, it was actually the size of small movie because our show was very well produced. Discovery pulled out all the stops and it truly is international class and the crew was multi religious, people across all faiths and regions.” “And it was only in a matter of few days, where we all realized that “Look we are actually walking on a path that Lord Ram himself walked on, thousands of years ago” and what it does to you emotionally, religiously, spiritually is really really deep. The crew like I said was multi religious and multi regional and across ages and all said “Jai Shree Ram” at the end of the day. And as I say the younger people among the crew who were cooler would say “JSR” which is the acronym for “Jai Shree Ram”. In some ways, it really felt like connecting to our roots, connecting to our land, our ancestors. It was a wonderfully special journey.” India is not lacking in epics and that too in several different languages, so there is enough historical and mythological material here that people could not cover in their lifetimes. The roots of our civilization extend way outside just the boundaries of modern day India, so we asked Amish if he would be interested in exploring the other great less talked about epics of India, tribal mythologies and such. He said: “Yeah absolutely. In fact the concern for me is having more story ideas than the capacity to write. “I am already doing stuff in the historical space, there is a story idea I am working on concerning Rajendra Chola, I think one of the greatest Indian emperors. Various other heroes and heroines who have been ignored such as Abbakka Rani from Karnataka, Lachit Borphukam from Assam, Lalitaditya from Kashmir, so various ideas in the fiction space and even in the non fiction space because I do want to explore more documentary ideas as I truly enjoyed this experience.” He added “I am only limited by the capacity and the time that I have, I am practically already doing four jobs, writing my books, doing my diplomatic job as the director of the Nehru Center, working as a producer on Suheldev which is my book being converted into a movie and the Shiva Trilogy which is being converted into an OTT series, and fourth as documentary host. So I am only limited by time, but I am going to try and do as much as I can, Lord Shiva has blessed me with more ideas than I have the capacity to bring into reality , but I’ll do the best I can. I’ll do as much as I can, certainly.” The Ramayana is a tale which every Indian knows in some form, no matter how little. But there is so much we do not know to this tale, and presently whether due to lack of time or just the education system in general, we have not been able to explore this great tale in detail. When asked whether his documentary would help awaken an interest in the mind of the average Indian regarding the so many fascinating aspects of their own history which they have either forgotten or ignored, he said “You are giving me far too much credit. I don’t think I have awoken anything…awaken, awoken (laughs) Our culture is already alive, we are the only pre Bronze Age culture which is still alive. There is deep interest in our culture across India, across all religious groups, across all caste groups, across all regional groups, because that is who we are, we are the only pre Bronze Age culture to survive and the reason for that is that there is a deep attachment to our culture. The education system does not help, it is still deeply colonial, but the demand is there, Indians want to explore our own culture, I just happen to be a small contributor to that search and I am doing my own small contribution to our culture and our land that I deeply, deeply love.” “Legends of the Ramayana” is a documentary that aired on discovery+ on April 7, it traces original Valmiki text mentions through modern day historiography, archaeology and geology as the team uncovers several fascinating aspects of this epic tale which shroud it in even greater mystery. ANV ING

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