A great thing about Hinduism is that the text can be challenged, there is no blasphemy, and that helps develop critical thinking skills in people who critically examine ancient Indian texts
It’s often argued that some of the greatest lessons for the future lie in the past—be it the life you’ve lived, be it history, be it mythology.
That’s possibly one of the reasons that led Shantanu Gupta—author, TV panellist and TEDx speaker—to start the Ramayana School, a unique edtech platform that aims to teach children as well as adults life lessons and behavioural skills from the ancient Indian epic.
“In the 14 years of exile, prince Rama lost his kingdom, his wife was abducted and he almost lost his life during the war with king Ravana. Yet he never left the path of goodness, honesty and values, and came out as a winner,” Gupta told FE. “The Ramayana has many leadership lessons packed in it.”
Started during the lockdown last year, the Ramayana School focuses on leadership lessons for children aged 7-14 (80% of its course consumers), as also management and entrepreneurship lessons for corporates and business school students.
“Ours is a fully-paid model. The average ticket size per student is Rs 3,000. In FY21, we catered to 2,030 customers, and earned revenue of Rs 60 lakh,” he said. “Of these 2,030 learners, 70% are Indians living outside India (the US, the UK and the Middle East).”
What possibly gave the Ramayana School the head-start is that during the start of the lockdown last year, Ramayana and Mahabharata (TV serials) suddenly became popular amongst Indian community both in India and abroad.
It currently offers 10 products, from online games and puzzles for children, to lessons from the Ramayana, to even a ‘become-an-author’ course.
Ramayana and religion
While some may argue that the meaning of Hindutva has taken a slightly negative connotation in the last few years, and so some parents may think that learning from Ramayana could be somehow connected to Hindutva. “Our lessons are about behavioural skills. The idea is not to give it a religious connotation; someone like Rama—whose name is still popular across the world and revered—is a hero from whom one can learn about leadership, how he behaved as a friend, as a prince, as a king, and what can we learn from his behaviour,” Gupta clarified.
Rama as a human being
At the same time, Rama also appears fallible; for example, certain Ramayana texts tell us that he decided to send his wife Sita to a second exile when some people of Ayodhya questioned Rama’s decision to make Sita the queen. “We don’t justify our heroes at the Ramayana School,” Gupta said. “We tell learners the facts, and let them make their own opinion. A great thing about Hinduism is that the text can be challenged, there is no blasphemy, and that helps develop critical thinking skills in people who critically examine ancient Indian texts.”
The Ramayana School currently has five full-time faculties, who also create content and are helping develop new books, and some part-time trainers.
Last year, the edtech start-up had opened a friends and family round for funding. In November last year, and then in January, February and March this year, it got four parents of kids studying on the platform invest Rs 10 lakh each. “We have valued our platform at Rs 10 crore, so they all got 1% of the share in the Ramayana School; we also issued them share certificates,” Gupta said. “We are now going for pre-series A round funding, and are looking to raise Rs 2 to Rs 2.5 crore and are talking to a few people.”
While the Ramayana School started last year, the idea was born a few years ago when Gupta was teaching Ramayana to his son, who then asked him certain questions that he didn’t have ready replies to. “I studied a lot, talked to experts, found some answers, and realised that there is a lot more to the Ramayana than an average person might comprehend. One thing led to another and the Ramayana School was born,” he said. “Soon enough we will start lessons from the Bhagavad Gita as well as the Mahabharata.”