Are the (TV) Mahabharata and Ramayan “Right Wing”?

By Omar Ali 68 Comments

In 1987 and 1988, India’s official (and at that time, only) TV channel (Doordarshan) broadcast serialized version of the famous Indian epics, the Ramayan and the Mahabharata. The series were hugely popular and with no competing TV choices, there was the kind of nationwide common viewing experience that is less and less common in the internet  and cable TV age. I dont know if Left-liberal Indians (mostly Hindus themselves) were agitated at that time (i dont remember it being an issue, but I was not really reading Indian media at that time) but over time a narrative has developed that the broadcast of these serials led to a rise in Right wing Hindu nationalism, which culminated in the demolition of the Babri masjid by a Right wing mob in 1992.  THe subsequent rise of the BJP to power is then the next step in a sequence that began with the broadcast of these “Hindu” serials.

As India has gone into lockdown due to Covid19, Doordarshan has announced that it is going to rebroadcast these serials. This step has revived the complaints about these serials being the first step in the rise of Hindu nationalism in India, exemplified by tweets like this one from “engaged historian” Audrey Truschke:

To me, as an outsider, this is quite fascinating. It seems that there is a significant segment of the Indian intelligentsia (which hapens to be the dominant faction in terms of foreign coverage of India; Western news organizations almost all pick up their own view of India via these “native informants”) that believes that:

  1. Pre-BJP India (“Nehruvian India”?) did not create too much popular entertainment based on “Hindu themes” (and that was a good thing). (I do think this view is not really true; so-called “Hindu Devotional” films were a well established feature of Indian cinema as far as I can remember). Or at least, these themes were restricted to a small subset of movies (just as there were “Muslim socials” and other niche genres) and were not a nationwide phenomenon.
  2. The production of these serials was an unwelcome act. They stimulated a certain vision of Hindu identity and that vision has been very bad for India.

The point of this post is not to discuss whether these serials were good or bad. I am just fascinated by the fact that this view exists and is (or was) fairly mainstream (or at least, very respectable and prominent). I really think this is a relatively unique aspect of Indian intellectual life, which does not have exact parallels in most other cultures. In my more-leftist days I would have regarded this state of affairs as an uncomplicated good thing (i.e there is a country where the majority religion and its major mythological themes are NOT considered desirable material for popular entertainment, or at least, are considered “problematic”, and not just by some tiny “woke” academic consituency, but by people who are considered mainstream arbiters of culture and national identity).

Even then, I knew that this is not at all the case in Islamicate culture (in which Islamic themes, stories, mythological material, historical dramas, etc. are perfectly mainstream), but when I think about it, it is not the case in Western culture either. Biblical serials, movies etc are completely mainstream, albeit with full artistic freedom and willingness to experiment and play with them as desired. In addition, certain epics (the Iliad and the Odyssey foremost among them) are considered foundational elements of Western culture and no one (outside the tiny wokesphere) would think twice about making a serial about them or admiring them in any shape or form. But in India there is a strong (perhaps no longer dominant, but still, prominent) constituency that can and does reject both Hindu religious themes and specifically, TV serials based on the two greatest Indian epics. It seems that the objection to these serials is NOT based on any notion of the presentation of these serials themselves being excessively “right wing” in some way. I don’t recall seeing any pieces that analyze the serials and notes how their portrayal of these well known epics was especially slanted or propagandistic. In fact, one of the two (Mahabharat) had a Muslim Bollywood screenplay writer (Rahi Masoom Raza) writing the serial and both serials are sometimes the target of actual Right wing complaints that they were too “secular” (“secular” has some idiosyncratic and peculiar meaning in Right wing Indian discourse, but more on that some other day). Just the fact that the serials were based on Hindu themes and became wildly popular seems to be the complaint.

My own view now is that even as a liberal/leftist, this is overkill. More to the point, it is not a realistic option. There is no such thing as “Hinduism-mukt” Bharat on the horizon; a small elite may have imagined this was actually possible in a weak sense (ie they did not imagine an India without H induism, but imagined one where traditional Hinduism is mostly an embarrassment and a modern “Leftist” Hinduism takes its place). And perhaps a subset of leftist Christians or Muslims also felt the tug of  “improving” the religious character of the country by getting rid of “superstitious, casteist” Hinduism and replacing it with more modern religions. Whatever the case, this whole discussion is somewhat unique. Leftists (and modernist liberals) look down on (and actively criticize) traditional religion in almost all countries, so this is obviously a matter of degree, not of kind..but it is an interesting extreme nonetheless. On general principles, I would consider it an unrealistic dream.

I am wondering how this will evolve in the future? Share your thoughts in comments.

Incidentally the original serials were made in long ago times, with very limited technology. The production values are quite primitive by today’s standards and in fact (as someone commented on twitter), the entire look and the acting style is lifted straight from “nautanki” (folk theater) and doesnt work as well on TV. The standard for mythological movies is now “Bahubali“, not the 1980s TV serial, so it remains to be seen if the new generation will take to it as avidly as the 1980s audience did (the new generation also has MANY more entertainment options). Still, in a lockdown, and given the theme, it may be a hit again. We shall see.

I will also take the opportunity to plug my favorite version: Peter Brooks film version of his theatrical production of the Mahabharata. The full version is availabe for free on youtube. It takes occasional liberties with the classical text, but it is artistically VERY well done, worth watching.

An example of more contemporary production values:

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68 Replies to “Are the (TV) Mahabharata and Ramayan “Right Wing”?”

  1. Public TV in Canada shows Nativity shows and Christmas movies. I watch them because they are entertaining (or avoid them when not).

    Other shows that popped up in the 80’s / 90’s were:
    * Tipu Sultan
    * Bajirao Mastani (with focus on the Mastani relationship and not the Maratha empire as much).
    * Bharat Ek Khoj

    Should more shows be on Science vs Indian history and mythology? Absolutely. That doesn’t make a showcasing Ramayan and Mahabharat right wing.

  2. By the way, the Peter Brooks version of the Mahabharat is similar to “Nautanki,” but really Greek theatre told on screen. I watched it more than 20 years ago and enjoyed it.

    For most Indians though, it would be an overlong lullaby.

    1. @VV Krishna is specially laughable in Peter Brook’s Mahabharata. He looked, spoke and acted more like Jesus. Mahabharata’s Krishna is complex and fascinating. He is obviously not much aware of his ‘Godly’ origin.

  3. Truschke quoting an Indian is typical of Intenational and Indian left circus. Many centuries of Turkish/Western rule over India has robbed a good portion of ‘intellectuals’ with tremendous inferiority complex. Colonialism has done it’s job. These same people who were going overboard with the narrative CAA is against Muslims and intrinsically fascist.

  4. ” In fact, one of the two (Mahabharat) had a Muslim Bollywood screenplay writer (Rahi Masoom Raza) writing the serial ”

    Not only that, coincidentally Arjuna (perhaps the lead character is some way) was played by muslims in two TV adaptation. I dont; think it can happen today though.

    Also there is an incident with Mukesh Khanna (who played Bheeshma) who was sort of a budding actor around that time and didnt want to play an oldie Bheesma, lest it affect his career. He narrates that he sort of joked abt the characters, Raza sort of went full whatsapp uncle on him (“are u a hindu?., u should be ashamed of denigrating ur heritage”), and shamed him into taking this role.

  5. B.R. Chopra’s Mahabharata had excellent production values as far as casting, acting, dialogue and narration were concerned. It obviously did not do special effects well but compared to Bahubali which only has bombastic action sequences with no focus on dialogue and story, its much more watchable. I for one could not sit through any of the Bahubali movies.

    As Omar wrote above, Mahabharata’s dialogues were indeed written by Rahi Masoom Raza who was a bona-fide leftists but not a Hindu hating one. Rather than presenting Mahabharata as is, one can see many modernist elements introduced in the story by him. Total, undying hatred of Hinduism is a phenomenon of the modern, woke left. The left in 1980s India could produce glowing tributes to Hindu culture as can be seen from the 2 Ramayana and 2 Mahabharata episodes of Bharata Ek Khoj directed by another leftist – Shayam Benegal

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8JvrdyOfCBk&list=PL1EG23oYcaFu6SNAiofd0uco0sD0JeVji&index=5
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTcdpRK7BJs&list=PL1EG23oYcaFu6SNAiofd0uco0sD0JeVji&index=6
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csJyDfBBAEU&list=PL1EG23oYcaFu6SNAiofd0uco0sD0JeVji&index=7
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvUFlUKoCNk&list=PL1EG23oYcaFu6SNAiofd0uco0sD0JeVji&index=8

    Ramayana by Sagar is also decent however quite different from Mahabharata not in the least because Ramayana as a story has a different tone and tenor than a ‘blockbuster’ epic like Mahabharata. Its more personal and intimate. Also Sagar and Chopra had different directorial styles. All movies and serials by Sagar are slow whereas Chopra who was a very successful Bollywood movie director had a fast moving, action packed style very suited to Mahabharata.

    Comparing Ramayana and the Mahabharata productions to ‘nautanki’, is hyperbole. I think since these productions are in Hindi, the nuance of the language might be lost upon people from non-Hindi speaking states and its mostly they who make such derogatory comparisons.

    1. Right, I have heard that the “Karna as tragic hero” interpretations that are popular nowadays largely derive from the Raza retelling.

      1. “Karna as a tragic hero” retellings and even “Duryodhana as a tragic hero” retellings are probably as old as Vyasa’s epic itself.

        If we go strictly by the epic, both Duryodhana and Karna are grey characters who did bad things consciously and they paid for it. However circumstances are sufficiently muddy to relitigate their actions in a more positive light & create a narrative favoring them.

        A Sanskrit playwright Bhasa wrote “Urubhangam” (The Breaking of the Thighs) around 1800 years ago which had Duryodhana as the protagonist and a tragic hero. Marathi writer Shivaji Sawant’s book, ‘Mrityunjaya’ (One who conquers death) which is written from Karna’s perspective as well as Ramdhari Singh Dinkar’s poem ‘Rashmirathi’, (One who rides a chariot of Sun’s rays) also treat Karna as a much more sympathetic (and heroic) character than he is shown to be in the epic.

        Regarding Karna, his circumstances indeed are tragic as Vyasa’s Mahabharata also illustrates but what the later retellings enhance as did Chopra’s Mahabharata is his skill as a warrior. He is made out to be as an equal to Arjuna which going strictly by the Mahabharata text is NOT true.

        Apart from playing up the ‘social-realist’ depiction of Karna, Chopra’s Mahabharata was innovative on many fronts. Firstly the use of ‘time’ as the narrator which is unique. The real Mahabharata is narrated by a ‘Suta’ Ugrashravas to sages of the ‘Bhrigu’ clan while they were performing a multi-year sacrifice at Naimisharanya.

        Another thing I found clever was incorporating Krishna’s backstory as narrated in the “Harivamsa” within the Mahabharata. In the actual Mahabharata, Krishna is introduced as an adult cousin of the Pandavas around the time when Arjuna wins Draupadi as their bride.

        Finally a lot of modern ideas were intentionally or unintentionally added to the story and dialogue by Rahi Masoom Raza. For instance all defense of the caste system were removed from the story. King Bharata’s adoption of ‘Bhumanyu’ as his successor instead of his sons was portrayed as a desirable custom among the Kurus of choosing a successor based on merit rather than birth. This was later emphasized as the reason why Yudhisthira was the rightful King rather than Duryodhana when actually either had as much a legal claim to the throne as the other.

        1. @Janamejaya

          you seem to be quite knowledgeable on mahabharata.

          (1) i am looking for a good english translation of vyasa’s mahabharat (yes, the whole 18 parvas). KM ganguli’s version is available on the Internet, but its archaic english does not make a pleasant reading. let me know if there is a better translation available.

          (2) it is generally believed that the classical text built upon a core text called “jaya”, which was much smaller in size. I would like to find an english translation of this core text. (basically i am trying to understand how the epic evolved over the years).

          1. (1) i am looking for a good english translation of vyasa’s mahabharat (yes, the whole 18 parvas).

            You can get the English translation of the Critical Edition of Mahabharata done by Bibek Debroy and published by Penguin. Its in 10 volumes I blv. I haven’t read it myself but it has great reviews.

            If you can read Hindi, you can find Gita Press’s, 6 volume Sanskrit-text, Hindi-translation publication of the Mahabharata online. You can also buy it online or from Gita Press shops anywhere in India. I have read this one and its excellent.

            Finally if you are short on time you can listen to Laurence Manzo’s 100 episode podcast on the Mahabharata. He has done a really good job of ploughing through the entire text and retelling the story chapter by chapter.

            (2) I would like to find an english translation of this core text. (basically i am trying to understand how the epic evolved over the years).

            Fortunately, in the case of the Mahabharat, it is quite easy to make out what is the core of the text as may have been composed originally and what was added later. Simply put

            1) most of the numerous stories which sages tell Yudhisthira while the Pandavas were exiled,
            2) the several narrations of the escapades of ‘Parshuram Bhargava’,
            3) appendages like Vishnu Sahastra naam, Harivamsa, Bhishma-parva
            are later additions.

            The Mahabharata epic was conserved by the Bhrigu clan of sages for several centuries after it was created and before it was written down and spread throughout India. These sages were the ones who added the story of their own ancestor, Parshuram in several places in the Mahabharata. They also intertwined several other legends and stories into the text.

            BTW if you want to know more about Mahabharata the epic and how it might have been created, the book “On the Meaning of the Mahabharata” by V. S. Sukthankar (Director of the effort which created the critical version of Mahabharata at Bhandarkar Institute) is something you should read. You can download a pdf version online from BJP’s library. 🙂

            The work done by Bhandarkar Institute for creating the critical edition was of yeoman service to Hinduism (& Hindutva) IMO.

      2. In Vyasa’s Mahabhart Karna alongside with Duryodhana, Dushashana and Shakuni, is member of the group ‘dushta chatushya'(four evils). He is a villian with very few good qualities just like all of other villians of Indian epics.
        Dr Rahi Masoom Raza’s dialogues were much better than any other adaptation of Indian epics but I don’t think that B R Chopra’s version was devoid of leftist propaganda.
        One aspect that onscreen adaptions continuously portray wrong is Draupadi’s character. She has been described as a soft-spoken lady in Vyasa’s Mahabharata and she hardly ever speaks untill the episode of game of dice happens. She was too sophisticated to laugh at Duryodhana in Maya-mahal and too shy to reject a suitor during her Swayamwar.

    2. @Janamejaya Total, undying hatred of Hinduism is a phenomenon of the modern, woke left

      Not sure of this, there was always a section of the left whose writing was full of “total, undying hatred of Hinduism” (your assessment may vary but I would include, say, Girish Karnad among them). But somehow these people and die-hard upper class Hindus, the kind that must have lobbied to give national award to the poorly made movie “Shankaracharya” could coexist under one large leftist umbrella, perhaps not unlike how die-hard casteist orthodox Hindus and ulema who believed that all the Kaffirs should be killed or converted could come together under the Mughal umbrella.

      Perhaps the explosion of media since the nineties made these contradictions so stark and brought them to public attention that they couldn’t remain under the same umbrella any longer.

      1. I think both your comments have merit.

        Until the 1990s there were people in the leftist camp who had not declared all out war against Hinduism and wanted to emphasize its achievements while reforming its out of date ideas and practices. Ofcourse there were people like Girish Karnad who would have liked to ‘disappear’ Hinduism.

        However nowadays is there any leftist who openly says anything positive about Hinduism. The only time these leftists even acknowledge their Hindu identity is when they have to abuse it. Comments like “I am a Hindu and I am ashamed of such and such or so and so” are often made.

        1. @Janamejaya Mostly so but there is still a small set of leftists who claim to be Hindu or even praise Hinduism precisely when they can use their Hindu identity to contrast Hinduism from Hindutva, or when they can say “I follow Hinduism which is tolerant/diverse and not Hindutva which is the opposite of all these”;. The dohA-kAra commentator here sometimes tries to encourage potential Hindus he hopes may propagate this notion :).

          These people draw or share cartoons where Sri Rama apologizes to Muslims for what is done in his name, and I recently saw one where in a temple Shiva blesses a single kid on Shivaratri ignoring the rest of the worshippers who were wasting milk.

          Perhaps/hopefully, this has started diminishing in popularity – hopefully people can see that, while saying only bad things about Hinduism is often honest, praising it exactly when you can use that as a stick to beat Hindutva with is mostly dishonest.

          It sometimes feels like the leftist ecosystem has a super-intelligence which individual leftists may not have – having a diverse array of beliefs to cater to people with varying attitudes towards Hinduism, but every single of those strands united under the purpose of undermining any Hindu self-defense.

          1. “there is still a small set of leftists who claim to be Hindu or even praise Hinduism precisely when they can use their Hindu identity to contrast Hinduism from Hindutva,”

            U mean Kejriwal-ish 😛

            These are folks who just biding their time till Hindutva goes out of fashion again till they bear their fangs and then resort to normal. Its very similar to how after communism/marxism has gone out of fashion in India, many of them have started to call themselves liberal and not left (to distance themselves from the negative press)

            No one is going to fall for this sham.

          2. Kejriwal seems to me to be more of a pure politican without ideology, left or right. He also went further than most pretend-Hindu liberals do – he actually suggested to people to recite Hanuman Chalisa, saying that it is of great help in peace of mind. I think more Hindus fall for that than for the “My Hinduism is anti-Hindutva” sham, and I would guess that our pashchima-paMchanadIya-saMgItAchArya wouldn’t be so happy with Kejriwal.

      2. One super-sophisticated drohi is T.M. Krishna, the carnatic singer. Starting with the “brahminization” of M.S. Subbulakshmi by her husband, laments over the “appropriation” of Devadasi music, hypes about christian carnatic music and, he now tries atrocity literature over Mridangam making by untouchables, while enjoying Magsaysay awards and continuing to use Mridangam accompaniments, with the despicable Brahmin performers helping him in his glory. Badmouthing Hinduism pays, and how.

    3. @Janamejaya I wouldn’t go to the extent of saying that Bahubali has no focus on dialogue. Some of the dialogues like “idi naa mATa, nA mATE shAsanam”, translated inelegantly in the Hindi version as “yeh meraa vachan hai. mera vachan hI meraa shaasan hai”, or “kutantram kAdu mArtANDA, idi rAjyatantram”, i.e., crudely “Martanda, this is not kutantr but rather rAjyatantr” do have some sort of punch, though not the sort that someone whose aesthetics is attuned to modern production values would relate to.

  6. I was a child in the 80s and these shows used to be the highlights of my week. Don’t recall any strife about them back at the time; they were discussed at home and in school. (But I had no comprehension of politics then.)

    The only “controversy” I recall witnessing was my grandpa (a consummate amateur Vedic and epic scholar) expressing irritation at the stories veering off of the canonical tales he had studied and knew by heart. Indeed, he was the one who read me the stories when I was a toddler.

    These political interpretations only seem to have appeared after the BJP gained real political power.

  7. Actually India does not have a left intelligentsia because Hindus were learning – What the heck is identity politics ? Instead India only has far left Scholars & whoever disagrees with them is a Hindutva believer.

    After freedom most people including Indian scholarly circles were believers of Marxist/Socialist bent thus culture, religion etc. were non issues rather issue of ‘Unobtainable equality’ was at the core.

    This resulted in elite class going out of their way to differentiate themselves from the rest aka Hindus {as they were backward & superstitious}. Read about Kapil Komireddi’s upbringing, Nehru’s fear of religious revivalism etc. or many other people who had supposedly ‘secular’ upbringing which included 2 things –

    1. Creating false sense of Hindu-Muslim unity
    2. Making Hinduism the source of all social evils in India Hinduism is Hindutva.

    Leftists have historically only made the distinction when they appealed to public but now public has caught their game of equating Hinduism = Hindutva internationally & making the distinction of Hinduism =/= Hindutva regionally/nationally. Hindus have now started playing the global Identity political game as Identity politics demands.

    This has resulted in an Indian intelligentsia which is globally connected but culturally completely uprooted & is deeply rooted in Woke far left politics.

    I only see this gap widening esp. if nothing major happens to economy.

    Scholarly shift is already happening & is incoming in next 5 yrs – Note the date & take screenshot of this post.

  8. Another incident , Punnet Issar who played Duryodhan was first casted to play Bheem. Surprisingly when he first walked into rehearsals , he appeared to be the most prepared of all actors and was adamant that he will only play Duryodhan and belted out monologues after monologues of Duryodhan. He was the only one from the actors who had actually read Mahabharat start 2 finish. And taking Durydhan was a courageous decision since it was a negative and hated character, and Punnet still a new actor. All this mighty impressed Reza who gave that role to him

    Of course this created another problem, Punnet had the physique of Bheema and now they had to cast someone who could physically dominate him for role of Bheem. Eventually they casted someone as Bheem (in my view the weakest casting call) who could just do that regardless of acting prowess, since shooting had already started.

    1. “And taking Durydhan was a courageous decision since it was a negative and hated character, and Punnet still a new actor.”

      come on. whats the big deal about it. puneet issar had always played the roles of villains in movies. (remember, he was the actor who almost killed amitabh on the sets of “coolie”).

      1. He had, but still he wasn;t that big a villian still. He could have moved to more positive roles (which is always desirable ) and Mahabharat was one way to achieve that. He was at the time of shooting big enough actor to demand whatever role he wanted and still opted for Duryodhan.

        Almost all villians of the show were folks who didnt’t get the “hero” part. All the semi famous actor (or with clout)of that time did get the hero parts

  9. WHO WOULD WIN?

    Decades of top-down propaganda from an overwhelmingly dominant leftist intelligentsia

    VERSUS

    Some comic books and a TV show

  10. i grew up in 80s. i dont recall if there was any objection to the telecast of these hindu mythological serials on the grounds that they go against the secular character of india.

    however, there does seem to have been some attempts to balance the scale by producing some “islamicate” serials. since you can’t picturize the life of muhammad for obvious reasons, the next best course of option was to make a tv show on some historical muslim hero. a serial based on the life of tippu sultan was telecast soon after, and it was widely seen as the “muslim” serial.

    india of 80s and earlier decades was something of a cheezy-corny place. (the closest we came to the ganga-jamuni tehzeeb of kabir’s imagination 🙂 ) . it was obligatory to have a “sachcha musalman” character in every bollywood movie. hero’s best friend, upright police officers, elderly family well-wishers etc were always muslim of course.

    it all changed in 90s. now muslims characters were smugglers and gangsters (but they still had a sense of honor). the facade finally fell in 00s and 10s when bollywood started depicting muslims as violent terrorists.

    just my (admittedly simplistic) take on evolution of depiction of muslim characters in indian movies. don’t take it too seriously :).

    1. a serial based on the life of tippu sultan was telecast soon after, and it was widely seen as the “muslim” serial.

      I don’t recall anything like that. The Tipu Sultan serial was very popular, and the man himself was seen as an Indian hero and one of the few people to have given the British in India a bloody nose. The show itself was, of course, hagiographic, not talking about his brutal conquests of coastal India and his occasional Islamic intolerance.

      Calling “The Sword of Tipu Sultan” (created by Bhagvan Gidwani, a Hindu) a Muslim show is as ahistorical as calling the Ramayana and Mahabharata as Hindutva shows.

      The discourse we have on BP these days would seem alien to Indians even in the mid-90s when Islamic militancy (in Kashmir and other places) was a real threat to the country.

  11. This is such a foolish argument that telecasting of Ramayana , Mahabharata lead to rise of Ram , movement The Ram Leela is an integral part of Indic culture and is enacted in small towns and villages of North during the 9 day period before Dusshera . So it is not that people suddenly ” discovered” Ramayana bcoz of this serial. The rise of hindu rw is bcoz of Kashmir I Hindu issue and the bitter desire to erase everything related to Hinduism as backward rubbish by left and Islamist. Also quoting Audrey whos views towards trad Hindus and hindu epics are similar to the views of Nazis towards Jews. Many Hindu’s view Audrey as a hinduphobe Nazi
    Maybe you could write your next article on that.

    a

  12. I watched some episodes nearly a decade ago with my family because my Dad insisted no body at the time know about the LW/RW bullshit drama peddled by the Intelligensia today. It was a good show with weird graphics but enjoyable nonetheless because the story was somewhat accurate.
    My dad used to narrate a Ramayan or Mahabharat story every night until the stories ended.

    My Dad is not a Modi Fan because of all the Demonetization stuff also he is not a big fan of CAA-NRC. Something has changed in the recent 5-6 years the western media perspective has shifted . They want to state more problems than India already has and India has a lot of problems regarding Infrastructure,waste mgmnt etc
    The same argument of RW uprising is presented in the NETFLIX SHOW ” Sacred Games”. I can’t say for sure about the credibility of the argument
    .
    Nobody Questions(at least the mainstream) the MUGHAL/ INDO-ISLAMIC movies in the west. Brilliant movies like
    MUGHAL-E-AZAM, BAJIRAO-MASTANI, JODHAA-AKBAR and adaptations of perso-arabic stories like SHIRIN-FARHAD and LAILA-MAJNUN back in the old days.

    Now my family is becoming Liberal which is alright cause I am a left liberal according to Politicalcompass.org but becoming sympathetic
    towards Muslim. (which is alright ) apart from my Dad who says that the MAULVIS are the one to blame for the conditions of Muslims in India (especially rural India). My dad the works in MEWAT district of Haryana. No toilets construction,10+ kids in most of the families,highly cultural,teenagers involved in Scamming etc which is not really different from any other impoverished district in India.

    The best movie for Ramayan was the Indo-Japanese project of
    Ramayan : The Legend of Prince Ram . The story was alright and cut down short but the anime like graphics and the Songs ( that were in Sanskrit in English Version and Hindi(Sanskritised) songs in the Hindi Version. The songs were absolutely immersing and the movie was action packed. By far the best looking movie on any Indian Epic. Produced and Directed by Yugo Sako.

    I think it got banned due to Vishwa Hindu Parishad protesting the depiction of gods and goddesses as cartoon figures. I wasn’t meant to be accurate.

    “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramayana:_The_Legend_of_Prince_Rama#/media/File:Ramayana,_The_Legend_of_Prince_Rama.jpg”

  13. Long story short, no one thought of them as right wing when they first came out. It was under Congress regimes. Congress was not seen as anti-Hindu/pro muslim to the extent it s today now. Still had some “hindu legitimacy” vis-v BJP . India also produced some muslim/christian stuff as well.

    Leftist try to attribute reason for Congress decline and they have funny views. Just like its now accepted that Ramyana lead to Mosque demolition similarly this view that Triple Talaq/Rushdie book bans in 80s lead to fuel Hindutva. All these actions were so small and had almost no contribution to eventful BJP rise. This is just to comfort the left who keeps on churning these ideas and because of their clout gets accepted (even by RW eco systems) .

    The Mosque demolition/Ram movement was uniquely N-Indian phenomena and had more local reason than some nation wide fervor, notwithstanding some Johnny come lately ideas and theories (that it was some pan Indian movement) . People forget on ground zero itself there was strong opposition to the movement (by caste parties) , while support from rest of India was mostly non-existent.

    1. Or support was in the form of silent majority akin to Abrahamic religions conversion missions where apologetics took the center stage while the masses agrees with them to different degrees & supports them silently.

  14. To me what would be more interesting (and tieing with Omar’s question “I am wondering how this will evolve in the future?”) , would be what happens to innovation regarding Hinduism/Hindu epics goes from here.

    At least before the 90s there was a contingent of non right wing (lack of a better word) writers like Dinkar/Raza etc who could legitimately retell and change the stories. I am not sure it can be done anymore. With the left vs Hinduism battle , almost all retelling will now coalesce around a grand “Hindu” narrative which needs to be sanctioned by the RSS. Lest they end up like how Bansali ended up with Padmavat.

    Going fwd i think almost all “Hindu” writers will more or less adhere to this guidelines. Amish Tripathi and Chitra Bannerjee books ticks all the right boxes even if its innovative.Also time to time they praise Modi. So they will be “tolerated”. While if you go Ira Mukhoty and Devdutt Pattniak u will soon meet the same fate of book Three Hundred Ramayanas did.

  15. Quote / It seems that the objection to these serials is NOT based on any notion of the presentation of these serials themselves being excessively “right wing” in some way. /

    It is all ‘hyper left’ going crazy by the day. Sort of similar to what happened/ happens in USA, where some feel the need to say happy holiday instead of merry Christmas.

    Future: These fringe elements have no appeal outside their twitter group / college campus.

  16. I’m not going to comment on the “Mahabharata” and the “Ramayana”. But there is definitely a trend in recent years to make historical epic movies that depict history in a right-wing friendly manner. “Padamavaat” and “Panipat” are just two examples. I tried watching “Panipat” on Netflix but was extremely turned off by the whole brave Marathas facing evil Muslims thing. Ahmed Shah Abdali was depicted as a brute and you could tell that just by the way he ate his meat. It was blatant propaganda. In the pre-Modi era, the same director made “Jodha Akbar”, which portrays Emperor Akbar in a sympathetic manner.

    1. Panipat was just a very bad movie. But considering its contemporaries it was the least right wing movie

    2. Abdali massacred thousands of Indian people in single day and sold Hindu women as sex slaves. Wasn’t it enough brutal for you?
      Almost all of Indian ‘muslim’ historical movies and dramas are propagandistic. Imagine Tipu who desired to do Gazwa-e-Hind has become ‘national hero’. Jodha-Akbar had hundreds of historical inaccuracies. Akbar was also brutal in his youth had hundreds of women in his harem.

      1. If you have issues with “Jodha-Akbar”, I really can’t help you. The movie literally depicts a Muslim king being civilized by his Rajput Hindu wife.

        On Tipu Sultan, you are again displaying your weak knowledge of History. You need to read William Dalrymple’s “The Anarchy” to get a fuller picture. Tipu was concerned with ousting the British and was willing to ally with any Indian forces, including the Marathas, in order to do so.

    3. Why do modern day Muslims from India & Pakistan identify so much with Ahmad Shah Abdali who was from the perspective of Indians, most definitely a brutal invader and genocidaire?

      Modern Muslims rightly do not want to be held accountable for the brutality of medieval, Central asian and afghan warlords. But then also stop defending them so much. Its not too much to ask for in the interest of peace and harmony.

      1. I don’t think you know what the word “genocide” means. You guys have a habit of using terms extremely loosely.

        I have no great love for Ahmad Shah Abdali but the movie “Panipat” is just blatant pro-Hindu and pro-Maratha propaganda.

        1. Quote / I don’t think you know what the word “genocide” means. You guys have a habit of using terms extremely loosely./

          Yes i guess you are right about most people not majoring in history dont know genocide, massacre, progrom, ethnic cleansing, serious jihad, friendly jihad, didnt want but had to do jihad, atrocities because you need to do that to fit in our society etc. But you miss the forest for the trees. And mostly you can understand what the message is but use pedantry as excuse.

          1. You don’t need to major in History to know what “genocide” means. You simply need to look up the definition of the term in the English language.

            Words have precise meanings and communication is impossible when those meanings are stretched arbitrarily to score political points.

  17. This is one of the visible peak outbreaks of “ẅoke-pseudo-secularism”. This is what happens when shoddy Left worldsters with their schoolboyish binaries collide with reality. They want to become the Hindu Kemal Ataturk, but with less than 10 seats in the Parliament, all they can do is chase a 30 year old tele-serial for highs. What next? Airing Shaktiman caused the rise of Modi?

  18. These old series have been airing on different Indian channels in all of languages all these years. I wonder what is so special this time?

  19. In my opinion, the biggest fail of Indian secular-liberal-leftists was not treating Hinduism and Islam equally. They thought they could build an European secular democracy in South Asia, arguably the most religious region of the world. Moreover, they thought they could treat India as a distinct and seperate polity, with Hinduism as the majority identity and Muslims as the weak minority. However, common Indian Hindus never looked at India in isolation but with Pakistan and Bangladesh factored in matters of religion and community. The common Indian Hindu man may be very ignorant in lots of matters of the world but he knows that Pakistan and Bangladesh are proudly Muslim countries and Hindus are persecuted and dwindling minority (perception, may not be absolute reality). The common Indian man also understand that after a thousand years of subjugation by Muslims and then British, asking Indians to be not assertive about their national identity while overlooking assertive identities of the other community, is patently ridiculous.

    1. “The common Indian man also understand that after a thousand years of subjugation by Muslims and then British, asking Indians to be not assertive about their national identity while overlooking assertive identities of the other community, is patently ridiculous.”

      I think they never felt that Hinduism has the same Asabiyah as Islam had. It was not without reason though, it was ridden with caste, and when “Hindu-Unity” should have been highest (during partition) they could defuse it and mould a secular republic.

      What they didn’t factor in is all that was due to someone like Gandhi rather than secularist like Nehru. So once religion slipped out of their hand and caste got somewhat diluted, Hinduism became a potent weapon in the hand of the right (with no one like Gandhi on the other side to counter)

  20. Since we are on the topic 😛

    https://images.dawn.com/news/1184823

    I would not say Pakistan is any less right-wing than India, shares Audrey Truschke

    ” I’m using about three dozen Sanskrit-medium sources and trying to figure out what pre-modern India’s Hindu and Jain elites thought about the Muslim Other. And as it turns out, they didn’t think of them as Muslim very often, and they didn’t always think of them as the Other either”

    1. Wow, this is so much a sober and self aware take on own recent life and works! Lot of foreign experts do not realize the visceral, congenital, ubiquitious role of religious identity and religious history within Indian subcontinent. I mean they study it, they analyze it, but unless you are born and grew within it, you will never fully understand it. She could have done her popularizing of works much more differently from the beginning.

      1. ” I’m using about three dozen Sanskrit-medium sources and trying to figure out what pre-modern India’s Hindu and Jain elites thought about the Muslim Other. And as it turns out, they didn’t think of them as Muslim very often, and they didn’t always think of them as the Other either” This of Truschke and your comment “I think they never felt that Hinduism has the same Asabiyah as Islam had (after 1947).
        I think Indian secular elites always underestimated how modernization and nationalism go together. It’s understandable because both modernization and nationalism have been seriously studied multi-disciplinarily only on the last three-four decades. Yes, past history and essential characteristics of religions and religious societies are important, but role of modernization in reshaping mass consciousness is no less important.

    2. Why only overtly political activists against India like Trutschke are called for lit fests in Pakistan? actually she is also a regular on lit fests in India. If Pakistanis are clever and humorous , they should also invite people like Konraad Elst and hear his views on Hindutva, etc. Else can give his run for the money to any academic. Trutschke has crossed the line from an academic to an overtly political activist; she cannot throw stones from a glass house and expect nothing in return. Even old timers like Michael Witzel don’t cross the line from academics. Actually visas to Pakistan are tightly controlled by Pakistani army , who keep India/Hindu sympathetic voices totally out and anti-Indian/Hindu voices easy pass. When Rushdie or Taslima is invited for lit fest discussions, even over video if not in person, i would think , Pakistani lit tests have come of age and would deserve my salute.

      A book sympathetic to Aurengzeb , I see nothing wrong in it and perhaps be read by Indians also, in any case by those interested in history. A revision of reputation, good or bad, of historical characters is always welcome as far as I am concerned .

  21. Omar Ali could have referred to this article which explores the relationship of Ramayan to the Janmabhumi movement’s push for a temple at the birthplace of Ram.

    “Sequences in the serial itself seemed to make explicit reference to the VHP’s campaign, with Ram uttering prayers to a parcel of earth from his birthplace, a novel interpolation in the story,” notes Rajagopal.
    Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan Then and Now: Politics Of An Epic Kind
    The return of Ramayan to TV screens comes at a crucial turn of India’s political firmament with the Hindu-right BJP having established control over large swathes of the electorate.

    Through the most dynamic and disturbing phase of the temple movement that eventually led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992 by Hindutva zealots, Sagar’s Ramayan was regularly applauded by members of the Sangh Parivar for magnifying the Mandir campaign’s reach. The late Ashok Singhal of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad often remarked during interviews to the media that Sagar’s Ramayan “was a great gift to our movement” and that “we owed our recruits to the serial’s inspiration”
    https://www.outlookindia.com/blog/story/india-news-ramanand-sagars-ramayan-then-and-now-politics-of-an-epic-kind/4161

  22. On Ramyana and Omar’s observation that “the entire look and the acting style is lifted straight from “nautanki” ” is due to Sagar’s Ramyana being based on Tuslidas Ramayana rather than Valmiki one.

    As i had said b4 the Hinduism of N-India today is the Hinduism of Tulsidas (rather than Vedic/Puranic) earthy and in local language, stripped off high culture of Sanskrit , re-enacted over and over again in numerous street plays (called Ram Leela) across N-India. So already there was a ready made audience in N-India who were just seeing something on TV which they had seen from childhood. They didnt want the TV version, they wanted the local version scaled up to TV.

    What Luther is to German Christianity , Tulsidas is to N-Indian Hindusim

    1. You can’t compare the two. Luther stood against the supposedly infallible Pope and invited the wrath of the Catholic church. That required tremendous courage and intellectual honesty. Tulsidas did not ‘stand against’ anybody at a great risk to himself

      1. Tuslidas cant stand against the pope, because there was no pope to stand against. What constituted as the pope (the brahmin orthodoxy) he stood against by writing in the local language which was the first time Ramayana was being written in N-India, (which is what Luther also did)

        His work was boycotted and he was shunned till his work generated enough pressure for the Brahmins to relent. His Ramyana is the Ramyana which is read across N-India and not the Valmiki one. In my dad’s generation almost all houses(including even some dalit ones ) had it, which would not have been possible with Sanskirit one.

        On the risk part , i dont think anyone in the Bhakti movement had an personal risk attached to them by differing with the orthodoxy. So in a way Tuslidas took as much/as little risk as the others.

        1. Saurav, why do you think this?

          Tulsidas is generally considered part of the Ramanandi branch of the Sri Sampradaya. Naturally other Sampradaya engaged in dialogue with Sri Sampradaya and there were different perspectives. However the Sri Sampradaya was deeply respected by other Sampradayas–including the Buddhists and Jains. Sri Sampradaya was also a very large Sampradaya when Tulsidasa was born.

          The Tulsidas Ramcharitmanas is itself partly derived from the Adhyaatmic Ramayana (likely composed by Ramananda–guru of Kabir), other texts and oral traditions.

          If you want to make your case . . . it is far easier to make this case about Ramananda than Tulsidasa. And even with Ramananda . . . this case can only partially be made. Ramananda became deeply respected as an enlightened saint by many in his own life time.

          “the brahmin orthodoxy” . . . don’t follow what you mean by this. Do you mean other Sampradayas?

          “he stood against by writing in the local language which was the first time Ramayana was being written in N-India, (which is what Luther also did)”

          You mean versus translate an existing text such as Adhyatmic Ramayana or Valmiki Ramayana or Kamar Ramayana?

          “His work was boycotted and he was shunned till his work generated enough pressure for the Brahmins to relent.”
          It is Brahmins who loved his work and followed Tulsidasa. Do you mean it took one or two years for his work to become widely known?

          “His Ramyana is the Ramyana which is read across N-India and not the Valmiki one. In my dad’s generation almost all houses(including even some dalit ones ) had it, which would not have been possible with Sanskirit one.”

          Hmmm. People still read the Mahabharata, Valmiki Ramayana, Puranas, Adhyatmic Ramayana, Upanishads, Brahma Sutras and many other Sanskrit texts.

          “On the risk part , i dont think anyone in the Bhakti movement had an personal risk attached to them by differing with the orthodoxy. So in a way Tuslidas took as much/as little risk as the others.”

          How did Tulsidas threaten orthodoxy? Do you think the Sri Sampradaya threatened orthodoxy?

          1. Do you think the great Sri Sampradaya saint Ramanuja challenged orthodoxy by giving out the Maha mantra to everyone?:

            “Hare Raama Hare Raama
            Raama Raama Hare Hare
            Hare Kṛṣṇa Hare Kṛṣṇa
            Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Hare Hare”

            If you think this then maybe you can make the case for Ramanuja challenging orthodoxy. But by the time Tulsidasa was born the Sri Sampradya was one of the largest and most respected in the world.

            By the time of Ramanananda and Tulsidasa (much later than Ramananda) the Sri Sampraday “WAS” orthodoxy.

      2. Luther’s courage came not from a greater sense of honesty but from what Naipaul has called “fundamentalist rage”.

    2. Saurav I don’t understand your point about Tulsidasa? Have you carefully studied Tulsidasa and Valmiki?

      “stripped off high culture of Sanskrit”

      Umm. Really? Tulsi dasa uses very beautiful Sanskritized Hindi. The ram charitmaanas is the embodiment of Sanskriti high culture, Tantra, Shakta, Shaivism, Raja Yoga, Samkhya, Mantra Yoga (brain sound therapy), Laya Yoga, Hatha Yoga and many other different strands of Sanaathana Dharma.

      Tulsi dasa is deeply revered and respected by many, many different Sampradayas.

      “N-India today is the Hinduism of Tulsidas (rather than Vedic/Puranic)” Don’t understand this statement.

      Saurav, eastern philosophy has millions of holy books. No one can read a large percentage of them. But it might be worth while to select only one book and study it carefully. That way we can speak about one book and have a perspective on at least one of the thousands of Sampradayas.

      Don’t know your mother tongue. I love Kambar Ramayana and Tirumantiram in Tamil. There are other texts in Telegu, Kannada, Malayali, Marathi, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi/Urdu, Sanskriti, Pali, Tibetan etc. They are all beautiful beyond measure.

      1. Tulsidas comes close to Kamban. Both of them wrote Ramayanas based on Valmiki for their respective milieus. Kamban’s Ramayanam is undoubtedly greatest Tamil literary work of the medieval times . I don’t know how Hindi literary critics view Tulsidas for literary merit .

        Luther’s German also influenced modern German.

        1. Girmit, why do you see Tulsidasa as comparable to Dante or Milton?

          VijayVan, between Kamban and Tulsi Ramayana, which do you:
          —prefer reading?
          —find more extraordinary
          In some ways I prefer Kamban Ramayana.

          1. What I prefer reading for many years is neither as my interests are far from religious or medieval literary. Kamba ramayanam used to be in school text books in selections. After school, I have read bits of KR whichever seemed interesting , esp the characterization of Ravana and his family. In KR, Kumbakarnan tells Ravavan just a day before his final battle ” I know you are an a$$hole as you kidnapped Sita. I know I am fighting a wrong cause and I will die. But you have fed me and I owe you a debt of gratitude and I will fight for you “. Long time back in have read TR in bits as part of Hindi course was doing, that is all. All forgotten down the memory lane.

            I think i will spend some time in going through KR, as well as Valmiki

          2. Anan, just a stray thought. Both authored landmark epic poems, dante’s florentine italian became or already was a standard. they weren’t mere ideologues, but iconic bards.

  23. So i think there is a gap in understanding of what Tulsdias means in N-India and rest of India. Perhaps in rest of India he is seen just as an improviser/translator of Ramayana.

    So here are some folks writing abt Tulsidas
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulsidas

    “The work Ramcharitmanas has been called “the Bible of North India” by both nineteenth century Indologists including Ralph Griffith, who translated the four Vedas and Valmiki’s Ramayana into English, and modern writers.[27][155][156] Mahatma Gandhi held Tulsidas in high esteem and regarded the Ramcharitmanas as the “greatest book in all devotional literature”.[157] The Hindi poet Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’ called Tulsidas “the most fragrant branch of flowers in the garden of the world’s poetry, blossoming in the creeper of Hindi”.[11] Nirala considered Tulsidas to be a greater poet than Rabindranath Tagore, and in the same league as Kalidasa, Vyasa, Valmiki, Homer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and William Shakespeare.[11] Hindi litterateur Hazari Prasad Dwivedi wrote that Tulsidas established a “sovereign rule on the kingdom of Dharma in northern India”, which was comparable to the impact of Buddha”

    and finally

    “The Hindi poet Mahadevi Verma said commenting on Tulsidas that in the turbulent Middle Ages, India got light from Tulsidas. She further went on to say that the Indian society as it exists today is an edifice built by Tulsidas, and the Rama as we know today is the Rama of Tulsidas”

    1. Saurav, I agree with this comment about the greatness of Tulsidasa . . . who wrote a beautiful poem while in Samaadhi . . . I believe.

      I don’t understand your point on orthodoxy.

      No doubt Ramanuja, Ramandananda, Kabir and Tulsidasa were extraordinary giants who transformed the world as it now exists.

    2. “Hindi litterateur Hazari Prasad Dwivedi wrote that Tulsidas established a “sovereign rule on the kingdom of Dharma in northern India”, which was comparable to the impact of Buddha” —- Seems exaggerated, I doubt he had much impact in other parts of north india except for the present day uttar pradesh region. I think most people except for few religious folks didn’t even know who he was 2-3 generations ago in most parts of northern india. Same goes for lord Rama :).

  24. Both entertaining serials on DD as I vaguely recall. I have very few memories of Ramayana, but MBh was certainly a much bigger hit (it is a better story to begin with).

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