It’s a sort of audio Wikipedia with one theme — the Ramayana.
An app released in July by The Mind Network (TMN) lets people scroll through stories from the vast epic by theme, period, character or place. Listen to sections on the forests, the concept of purity, the Vanar Sena or the Kingdom of Lanka.
“Our aim is to introduce the timeless, universal tale of good versus evil to those who don’t already know it,” says Bhuwan Arora, 30, a software engineer from Faridabad and founder of TMN. “My father, Ved Prakash Arora, inspired me. He is a deeply spiritual person who loves Valmiki’s Ramayana. At some point, I realised I had not read the text myself. In this day of bite-sized information, it struck me that not many my age might read it. And so, amid the lockdown, I decided to present the ancient text in a new format.”
The epic is retold as 450 stories, each less than a minute long.
“I wanted people to think more deeply about the epic, develop their own perspective,” Bhuwan says. “The complexities, which have resulted in over 300 versions, are after all a big part of what make The Ramayana an epic.”
The app is based on the two most familiar versions — the one by the sage and Sanskrit poet Valmiki, written sometime between the 1st and 5th centuries BCE, and the one by the 17th century CE saint and poet Tulsidas. “To help with research, 30 interns were hired. Some, with backgrounds in dramatics and the theatre, helped the audio narrations too,” says project lead Brinda Singh.
Add-ons such as pictures of significant places from the epic as they are today, and character studies of the people featured in the epic, offer readers and listeners fresh insight too, and aim to highlight The Ramayana’s overarching themes of duty to one’s fellowmen, loyalty, righteousness.
One of the most memorable stories for me was that of Sabari, an old woman who waits for Rama all through her life, and when he finally arrived at her doorstep, tastes a fruit — there are many different versions of this part — and then offers it to him,” says N Jacintha, 23, an MBA student from Hyderabad who assisted with research for the Ramayana app. Lakshmana was offended by this, but Rama understood that she meant no disrespect and wanted to ensure that what she offered him was fresh and sweet. It symbolises to me what true devotion looks like.
The app contains a total of 15 hours of audio content. Some stories are free; a one-time fee of Rs 250 enables access to the rest.
“It is important to retell the Ramayana in whatever way is best suited to the times in which we live. That way it can be introduced to the youth,” says Hari Ram Mishra, assistant professor at the School of Sanskrit and Indic Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. “I enjoyed the app. But I’d suggest the voices be more emotional to have greater connect with the listener.”