How Ram became a household name in India
For the locked-down Indian audience during these times of the Coronavirus, the broadcasting of Ramayan has come as a relief. While most of us are familiar with the story itself, do you know who really made Ram a household name in India? Was it Valmiki who composed the original Ramayan sometime around the 5th century BC or Ramanand Sagar who created the popular TV series in 1987? Well, we believe it was actually a third person – who lived at a time between these two! One might say we’re biased because the gentleman lived in our Banaras but that’s not the only reason we’re backing him. He was a visionary who worked hard to bring a brilliant idea to life. Yes, you guessed it right – we’re talking about Tulsidas!
Despite being an epic saga of the rise of a just Indian monarchy, with compelling characters and a stupendous storyline, by the 16th century AD, Valmiki’s epic had almost been forgotten by the masses. Reason? Have you seen a critically acclaimed movie from the 40s/50s and found it hard to appreciate? Now imagine a story composed about 2,000 years ago and in a language that was restricted to scholars. Besides India had changed much. The 16th century was a period rife with communal tensions. And scholarly inquiries into Dharma and Monarchy were not exactly top of mind for everyone.
Tulsidas, however, was born in a Brahmin family and so scholarly pursuits were the way forward for him. He fell in love with Ramayana – for he saw in Ram a man riddled with life’s vagaries and yet staying righteous and eventually overcoming hardships to restore a utopic time for his people. He wanted to share this hope with the masses. So he decided to translate the Ramayana into the local dialect Avadhi. This was already a very bold move – he would face stiff resistance from the priestly class whose monopoly was set to break with his move of democratization of religious literature. But he wanted to go even beyond a literal translation.
Tulsidas traveled the whole of Ram’s journey himself, spending time at each of the stops to empathize with all of Ram’s emotions. He would narrate episodes from Ram’s life in villages along the way in varying styles of narration – to figure out what works best. That’s how he arrived at the form of verses – something that people could sing, by themselves and in groups. Also, Valmiki’s humane Ram was amped up with Godly virtues to show that harsh circumstances befall even Gods. Ram’s suffering was made more relatable and his victories celebrated with a zeal of fanfare.
Tulsidas poured all these research findings and his heart out into his magnum opus – the Ramcharitmanas, which struck an instant chord with India. The vast geographical canvas of the story helped too. The book was translated into several regional dialects and adapted into theatre format as Ramlila, making Ram a household name.
Tulsidas was a great visionary. He had a brilliant idea and worked hard to bring it to life and take it to a wide audience. Personally, as an aspiring Entrepreneur and Storyteller, he’s been a major inspiration for me. His 450 years old house by the Ganga is still preserved very beautifully in Varanasi – like a living museum where you can hear people singing hymns from Ramcharitmanas. Located on Tulsi Ghat (named after him!), it is one of the must-visit places in Varanasi, and my favourite stop on our City of good life Varanasi walking tour I hope you also found his story interesting, dear reader. Let us know in comments below your thoughts on Tulsidas, or Ramayana, or Storytelling