Tuesday, December 23, 2014

INDIAN EPICS for Spring 2017

(This is an Orientation Week assignment for MLLL-4993-995.)

By this point, you've already completed several different orientation activities, including the most important one of all: telling a story of your own that is based on another story. The notion of "stories from stories" is a central theme of this class. Because of their amazing generative power, the Indian epics have lived on for thousands of years, and they are still going strong in this new millennium. You are going to become part of that tradition, too, as you retell the epic stories in your own words this semester, and you will also have a chance to explore Indian storytelling traditions beyond the epics, including the legends of Krishna and the ancient Buddhist jataka tales.

I know that for many of you, this is a completely new world of unfamiliar plots and characters, but don't worry: you will be explore this new world step by step, first becoming familiar with the two epics and then being able to choose the kinds of reading that you would most enjoy for the second half of the semester. Thanks to a grant from the OU Libraries, there is a whole range of materials available in Bizzell Library, along with lots of free online reading options. If you prefer to buy your own books, you will also find copies of the epics in the OU Bookstore along with other cheap online buying options.

For this assignment, I'll provide a quick overview of the different types of reading materials you'll be able to choose from, starting with the two epics, and then branching out to other Indian storytelling traditions. See what grabs your attention, and bookmark them as you go along!

Ramayana and Mahabharata Overview

You will be spend the first half of the semester (Weeks 2-7) becoming acquainted with the two great epics of India: the Ramayana (Ra-MA-ya-na) and the Mahabharata (Ma-ha-BHA-ra-ta).

Weeks 2 and 3: Ramayana. During these two weeks, you will be reading the epic story of Prince Rama and his war with Ravana, the king of the rakshasas (demons). There are two reading options to choose from: R. K. Narayan's novelistic adaptation published in 1973, or an anthology of different versions of the epic drawn from free public domain sources online.

Week 4: Ramayana again. In Week 4, you'll read the Ramayana again, this time in an even shorter version that will take just one week to read — there are free online books to choose from, along with comic books and graphic novels in Bizzell, or even a free animated film online. You can browse the Week 4 Ramayana options now to get a sense of what is coming.

Weeks 5 and 6: Mahabharata. During these two weeks, you will be reading about the epic battle between the five Pandava brothers and their ally Krishna on the one side and, on the other side, the Pandavas' cousins, led by Duryodhana and his ally Karna (who doesn't even know that he is a half-brother of the Pandavas). Have you heard of the Bhagavad-Gita? The Gita forms part of the Mahabharata's epic story. As in Weeks 2-3, there are two reading options to choose from: R. K. Narayan's novelistic adaptation, or an anthology of different versions of the epic drawn from free public domain sources online. After your experience with the Ramayana, you will know if you want to choose the same type of reading as before or if you would like to try something different.

Week 7: Mahabharata again. In Week 7 (like in Week 4), you'll have a chance to revisit the Mahabharata for one more week, reading the epic from a different perspective. Again, there are free online versions to choose from, along with comic books and graphic novels in Bizzell. You can browse the Week 7 Mahabharata options now if you want to see what to expect.

More Stories for the Second Half of the Semester

Week 8 is a review week, and then during the second half of the semester (Weeks 9-14), you will get to choose your own reading from a huge range of options. You might decide you really like the Ramayana and that you want to spend the rest of the semester learning more about that epic and its characters, or perhaps you will decide you want to focus for six weeks on the Mahabharata. Or you might decide to spend some time on both epics... or you might decide to go in a totally new direction, looking at the epic cycle of legends about Krishna, or reading about all the many Hindu gods and goddesses, or perhaps you will want to read Buddhist folktales. It's all going to be up to you!

The best way to get a sense of what the Indian storytelling tradition offers is to browse through the collection of Amar Chitra Katha comic books that will be on Reserve in Bizzell. Even if you do not decide to go to Bizzell to read the actual comic books, they are a great way to get a sense of what the Indian story traditions are like: Amar Chitra Katha Comic Books. You can use the tabs at the top of the blog for the different types of story traditions — Ramayana, Mahabharata, Krishna, etc. I hope you will want to go to the Library to read these fantastic comic books, but you can also use the comic book titles and contents to find the stories that grab your attention, and I can then try to find online options for you to read and learn about the stories that interest you most.

Reading Resources

As the semester proceeds, you will find yourself making use of several different course resource websites, all of which are interconnected. Just which sites you end up using the most will be based on your own interests and preferences. So that you can be familiar with the sites, take a quick look at each of them now — and add each one to your bookmarks for future reference:

Amar Chitra Katha Comic Books. This blog provides information about the approximately 100 Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) comic books on Reserve in Bizzell Library. Some of the comic books have detailed Reading Guides, while others just have a brief summary to help you make your reading selections.

Indian Epics Images. This is a blog with hundreds of art images related to the Indian tradition, and it is also the home of the public domain editions (PDE) I have made of the two epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata. 

Indian Epics Reading Guides. This blog contains information all the different books (including ebooks) that are available online and in Bizzell Library; some of these books have detailed Reading Guides, while others just contain a brief overview of the book to help you make your choices and read on your own.

Diigo Library. Diigo is a bookmarking site, and you can think of this as something like a "library catalog" that will help you to browse the many resources for this course: the free online books, plus the free books in Bizzell, including ebooks, audiobooks, along with all the comic books and graphic novels on Reserve for this class, along with online video options. Just click on any title you see there in our Diigo library and it will take you to a page with more information.

YouTube Music. In addition, I hope you might want to explore the world of Indian music, even though that is not an official part of this class — just something you might enjoy! Some of my favorite performers are Ravi Shankar and his daughter Anoushka Shankar, or fusion artists like Prem Joshua and Manish Vyas, or (my personal favorite)... Maati Baani! If you have some favorite Indian singers or musicians, include that in your blog post too. Enjoy!


  1. Replies
    1. Aren't they awesome? I am in touch with Maati Baani through Twitter, which is even more cool: they just made their first-ever trip to New York and were going to film a video in the subway somewhere — maybe the video will even be done during this semester. I will have lots of Indian music videos this semester in the announcements; so much goodness!

    2. That is fantastic! I can’t wait to see these videos! I can’t get stop listening to them on youtube!

    3. Me too! And thanks to the way networking happens, via both YouTube and Twitter, I keep finding new musicians who are connected in some way to Maati Baani and the other people I started out following to begin with. If you find some good stuff, share that in your blog and I'll be able to grab it and add it to class playlist! :-)

    4. Sweeeeeeeeet. I love listening to Indian music when we go to our favorite Indian food place here in San Antonio, Bombay Hall. We have been going since they opened 5 years ago and the waiter knows me by name somehow. He'll remember it even if we haven't been in during the last couple months. Unfortunately it is a 40 minute drive over there so I don't get to eat there very often.

    5. Oooooh, super: if you go there sometime this semester, ask for music recommendations. Between all the musicians in India, Pakistan, and in the diaspora, the amount of amazing Indian music just blows my mind. I keep finding new artists to listen to all the time, and it is fun to share things like that in your blog for class, too. Embedding a YouTube video just takes a second. So much goodness! I'm listening to Karsh Kale right now! :-)


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