Tuesday, December 23, 2014

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 this week (that's the Week 2 Reading B 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 "stories from stories" is the central theme of the whole class, as you will see.

So, after the Buddhist stories in Week 2, you will begin reading the Indian epic known as the Ramayana in Week 3, 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 version of the 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, first becoming familiar with the two epics in Weeks 3-9, and then being able to choose the kinds of reading that you would most enjoy for the second half of the semester in Weeks 10-15. Thanks to a grant from the OU Libraries, there is a whole range of Indian epic materials available in Bizzell Library, along with lots of free online reading 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 those items as you browse and explore.

Ramayana and Mahabharata Overview

You will be spend the first part of the semester (Weeks 3-9) becoming acquainted with the two great epics of India: the Ramayana (Ra-MA-ya-na) and the Mahabharata (Ma-ha-BHA-ra-ta).

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, 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.

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 are 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 (ACK) Comic Books. You can use the tabs at the top of the ACK 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, and you can also use the comic book titles and contents to find the stories that grab your attention.

Also, please feel free to ask me about any of these topics and possible readings; there are lots (LOTS) of very affordable Kindle books that you can also use for reading in this class, and it would be my pleasure to introduce you to even more books than what you see on the reading lists.

Reading Resources

As the semester proceeds, you will find yourself making use of several different course resource websites, all of which are interconnected. So that you can be familiar with the different options, please take a half hour or so to explore the links below, bookmarking any items that you think you want to return to later in the semester.

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. Take a look through the comic books and bookmark the ones that intrigue you for whatever reason.

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. I am guessing there are lots of images here that might make you curious to learn more; use the labels down the right-hand side of the blog to look at images of different characters from the epics and bookmark anything that is of special interest.

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. Again, take some time to browse around and bookmark anything that grabs your attention.

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, a husband-and-wife teamed based in Mumbai. If you have some favorite Indian singers or musicians, include that in your blog post too. Enjoy!

When you are done exploring, you will be writing up a blog post with your thoughts and ideas so far; for details, see the Week 2 Reading A assignment.


  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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