Sunday, December 23, 2018

INDIAN EPICS Course Overview

(This is a Week 2 assignment for MLLL-4993-995.)

By this point, you've completed the Orientation, and now it is time to begin your encounter with the world of stories from India. You will start with some Buddhist Jataka tales from India this week (that's the other Week 2 reading assignment), and then tell your own version of one of those stories (that's the Week 2 Story assignment). The idea is to choose plot elements and/or characters from the Indian storytelling tradition that you can use as the basis for your own story, creating something new by re-imagining something old. This idea of "new stories from old stories" is the central theme of the whole class, as you will see.

Then in Week 3, you will begin reading the Indian epic known as the Ramayana, and you will also be telling your own stories based on that epic. You will be writing stories like this all semester long, and I hope that by the end of the semester you will have developed your storytelling skills in all kinds of new ways.

Just as one example of a new take on the old Ramayana, check out Krishna Das and MC Yogi's Hanuman rap! The characters of the Ramayana are alive and well in this YouTube video; you might not recognize any of the characters yet, but you will get to know Hanuman, Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita very well over the next few weeks:

In addition to reading the Ramayana, you will also be reading the Mahabharata this semester; those are the two great epics of the Indian tradition.

Don't worry if this is all new to you: : you will be exploring this new world step by step, exploring the Ramayana (Ra-MA-ya-na) in Weeks 3-4-5 and exploring the Mahabharata (Ma-ha-BHA-ra-ta) in Weeks 6-7-8-9, with other Indian reading options in the later part of the semester. For this assignment, I'll provide a quick overview of both epics to get things started.

Ramayana and Mahabharata Overview

Weeks 3 and 4: 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 5: Ramayana again. In Week 5, 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 5 Ramayana options now to get a sense of what is coming.

Weeks 6 and 7: 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 3-4, there are two reading options to choose from: a modern novelistic adaptation by R. K Narayan, or an anthology of different versions of the epic drawn from free public domain sources online.

Week 9: Mahabharata again. Week 8 is a review week and then in Week 9 (like in Week 5), 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 9 Mahabharata options now if you want to see what to expect.

More Stories for the Second Half of the Semester

After you have gotten acquainted with the two epics, you will decide what you want to do with the remaining weeks of the semester; I'll explain more about that later on. You will have a chance to explore the epic cycle of legends about Krishna, or maybe you will want to learn about the many Hindu gods and goddesses, or perhaps you will want to read traditional folktales, including more Buddhist jataka tales. You can also choose to focus on learning more about the Ramayana or more about the Mahabharata. I hope everybody will be able to find good reading options and/or good videos that you will enjoy watching.

Indian Comic Books in Bizzell

Thanks to a grant from OU Libraries, I was able to purchase a complete set of Amar Chitra Katha comic books: 40 pounds of comic books shipped from Mumbai to Norman! Those comic books are all available now on Reserve in Bizzell, and you can browse the comic book inventory here: Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) Comic Books. Use the tabs at the top of the ACK blog to see 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, and you can also use the comic book titles and contents to find the stories that grab your attention. Some of the comic books have detailed Reading Guides to fill in background information and help you put the story of the comic book into a larger storytelling context; as I learn what comic books are of interest to people this semester, I will write Reading Guides to go with those.

Other Resources

Indian Epics Images. This is a blog with hundreds of art images related to the Indian tradition. You can use the labels down the right-hand side of the blog to look at images of different characters from the epics. As the semester progresses, you will recognize more and more of the characters whose names you see there. (You will see that there are LOTS of Hanuman images there; that's because I worked on a big Hanuman project for this class last year.)

Indian Epics Videos. This is a playlist of 100 videos related to the Indian epics and to Indian storytelling traditions. Many of them come from the Epified YouTube channel, which is an incredibly valuable resources for this class. Browsing through these videos is a great way to explore the different kinds of topics that you can learn about in this class.

YouTube Music. In addition, I hope you might want to explore the world of Indian music, which is one of the world's great musical traditions. Some of my favorite performers are Ravi Shankar and his daughter Anoushka Shankar, and also fusion artists like Prem Joshua and Manish Vyas, and (my personal favorite)... Maati Baani, a husband-and-wife teamed based in Mumbai. Check out their YouTube page for this video for the Gujarati lyrics and an English translation:

Maati Baani recently released this beautiful new video featuring Vidya Vox, along with garba dancers filmed in Ahmedabad: enjoy!

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