Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Media versus Books

Who are the real movers in Indian culture, Brahmins or non Brahmins? Which works have actually passed for generations and preserved in our culture? Literary ones or the others? 
Some works even though artistic by themselves, get popular more because of the controversy surrounding it. A.K. Ramanujan's essay, Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translations ; I read it because of the controversy of Delhi university scrapping it.

A beautiful one, though it does not give enough credit to Valmiki version (Valmiki version is not just oldest one, it is the original one, without which others would not have  existed). The essay also speaks about one of the Kannada village telling which focuses on Sita, her birth, her wedding, her trials. But essay obviously gives main importance to literary versions like Kampa Ramayana. It's a bit of irony when author says  " ... Jain texts express the feeling that the Hindus, especially the brahmans, have maligned Ravana, made him into a villain. ..."  and then they picture Ravana as a noble one. Wasn't Ravana a Brahmin? What would Brahmins gain by depicting him as a villain?
But what put me to think was none of these versions of Ramayanas. I bet, 90% of the Indian population are/were not familiar with any of these literal versions (knowledge of Sanskrit was even limited) as most of the population were illiterate. Then how did Valmiki's work survive and its characters are thriving as if they are one of our family members? Does classics of other cultures (like Iliad and Odyssey) enjoy the same popularity? Then what made our classics (which would not have been read by most of the Indians) so popular and special? The other literary works or the oral tradition?
Just like how Brahminism has been given more importance (either positive or negative way) by academicians, similarly literary work takes more importance over oral/folk ways of narrating. Be it Hari Katha, Yakshagana or Bayalaata which were sung, acted and narrated the Ramayana story in open air for the whole night. But fact is, it is these narrations which spread this work for the rest 90% of the population (Unlike Vedas, which got restricted only to scholars). I wonder why people give less consideration to this phenomena. In India, media has always been more powerful than the pen. Ramayan and Mahabhrarath had realised the power of media in earliest days. While the versions of these books got recognition among scholars, the plays made these works popular among commoners (which included other religions too, many times a Muslim playing the role of Hanumaan in Ramleelas of north India). Majority of south Asians are better at expressing themselves through emoting(/acting) rather than the verbal(/literary) way. This could be the reason for discrepancy in academic viewing and ground reality.
Coming back to Ramayana, earlier it were the plays which were held over night at villages, then they shifted to movies. (The earlier Indian movies used the mythological stories for entertainment). The medium started to get diverse. When TV was introduced, again the most popular serials were Ramayan and Maha Bharath. Now they are extended to animations cartoons (Chota Bheem, Hanumaan). Every time, Indian mythology has made use of the media. Ask any of the people how do they know the story of Ramayana or MahaBharath, most of them will name one of the media, rather than a book.
Power of media is not just limited to these plays. Just want to mention two major political theories which defined the course of our country in last century. 1>  Periyaar, who said Dravida's culture is different from Hindi speaking north Indians.  2> Jinnah's idea - Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, which are mainly based on conflicting ideas and conceptions.
After independence, when Hindi tried to replace English as the common language, Periyar did not accept it and viewed it as an attempt to make Tamils subordinate to North Indians. There was hardly any Hindi present in South Indian states till 1980. But Ramayan, Mahabharath serials in TV started to change people. (Vernaculars papers published translation of the episodes before hand)... Then Bollywood and Sharukh Khan. Today, there is no animosity towards Hindi in Chennai or any other south Indian state. Idiot box has succeeded in building a relation what major politicos could not achieve.
Despite their illogical plots, daily soaps in Hindi TV are quite popular. Not only in India, but among south Asian users abroad and a serious discussion goes on in forums about their favourite shows. Comments I read in there. "... Heroine is married, is she not supposed to wear Mangalsutra?..." These are the questions asked by second generation Pakistan/Bangladeshi Muslim girls residing in UK/US. Few others expressing their desire to celebrate Holi (which is frequently shown in these serials). People keep worrying about the Madrassa brainwashing, they might not be aware what silent change media has brought. Just like how it disproved Periyaar, it might prove Jinnah wrong, someday. This conversion of mind might not happen in years, may not even be in my life time. But for the history of religions, human life span is too short a duration. If anything happens in short duration, then it is not going to live long.

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