Although I have lived in Australia my whole life, I was fortunate enough as a child to have been exposed to many important parts of Hindu culture, notwithstanding the Ramayan. For those who don’t know, the Ramayan is an ancient Hindu epic telling the story of Lord Ram and his quest to save his wife Sita from the demon king Ravan.
Like many other children, I learnt about Ramayan through countless retellings from my dadiji, who to this day remains a devout follower of Lord Ram. The story teaches us of the importance to follow a truthful path in life. It illustrates the triumph of good over evil, the dangers of lust, the importance of family, and the integral values of loyalty and respect.
The Ramayan has had an immense impact on shaping me as a person.
No, this is not me saying that I’ve always been truthful, or that I’ve always shown respect and loyalty, but without a doubt the story of Ramayan, to this very day, has a profound effect on me, and I consider it one of the most valuable and influential resources I’ve gained from my childhood.
Whenever my papa would come home from India, he would come back with two or three cassettes of Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan, the 78 episode retelling of the epic which first aired every Sunday on India’s only channel Doordarshan from 1987-1988.
It was the serial that stopped the nation.
Every Sunday morning at 9am, the whole of India would congregate around television sets to watch the next episode of the epic. It was an unprecedented response for any kind of communicated message across the country.
I asked my family what it was like during that time in 1987. They said it was almost as if the cities and towns had been deserted. Weddings and functions were often postponed to not coincide with the latest episodes, whilst picture halls cancelled Sunday screenings due to poor audiences.
I clearly wasn’t the only one who was captivated.
From about the age of 5, I have been watching, re watching, and re re watching Sagar’s adaption of the Ramayan. By no means was I watching it because of the great production value. Dodgy editing, terrible special effects and overdramatic acting were the trademark of this production. But in return, I gained a deep understanding of the cultural values from my father’s side and I developed a sense of morality including the difference between right and wrong.
Ramayan also had a profound impact on understanding of the Hindi language. Not living in India, it was always going to be difficult to learn and be able to speak the language. Whilst I have to give all the credit to my parents, especially my papa for being so determined to teach me, I owe a lot of my current speaking ability to Sagar’s Ramayan. Whilst the sophisticated style of Hindi used in the serial is not common amongst the Banarasi style slang used by my family, it sure aided my learning process, and at the very least, reinforced the language structure.
Since then, many producers have tried their hand at emulating the 1987 series, but despite the overall improvements in production values as well as a greater overall budget per episode (Sagar Ramayan budget per episode was $1600), they simply have not been able to live up to the expectations of Indian audiences.
It’s just not the same.
I think one of the reasons Sagar’s Ramayan still lives on today is the fact that it was the first of its kind. Never before had India seen a serial style retelling of a religious epic. At the time of initial production, many political and media personnel warned of the possible rise in communal tensions as a result of the broadcast. However, Sagar’s Ramayan was appreciated by all across India including Christians, Muslims and Sikhs. It was also dubbed in several other Indian languages to cater for the non Hindi speaking communities. It saw a significant rise in the demand for television sets across the country which at the time were only owned by those in the upper and middle classes.
The actors who played the roles of Ram, Lakshman, Sita, Ravan, Hanuman and so on, have given a face to the name of characters we all know so much about.
In simple sense, when I think of Hanuman, I think of the late Dara Singh, who was surprisingly chosen by Ramanand Sagar to play the role at the age of 60. Like so many others, I became so invested in him and his character over the many years of repeatedly watching Ramayan.
Most kids at my age had the likes of Superman, Batman, or Rocky – but Dara Singh was my super hero.
When I heard the news of his passing in July 2012, I simply could not hold back the tears.
Living in Australia, I have been extremely lucky to have been exposed to many facets of Indian culture. I want my future kids to have that same exposure, and develop a deep understanding of who they are and the culture they come from. I want them to be able to appreciate epics like the Ramayan, and be able to draw inspiration from the stories of Ram and Hanuman like I have.
Whilst I might not have the oratory skills that my dadiji possesses, I can promise you one thing, and thats the fact that I simply cannot wait for the day where I get to relive the experience of the Ramayan with my kids.