The work on this project had begun in the middle of May this year, and by June 21, the beta version of the app was launched.
Ramayana: The coronavirus lockdown saw Doordarshan bringing back Ramanand Sagar’s TV adaptation of Ramayana, the tale of Lord Rama. The successful rerun of the show inspired the team at TheRamayana to create a virtual museum on the Indian epic. The brainchild of serial entrepreneur Bhuwan Arora, TheRamayana brings audio and written stories from Ramayana, along with perspective polls as well as quizzes in Hindi and English. The team combined the Indian heritage of the epic with the convenience of technology, to bring to the readers and religious history lovers a tech-savvy way of exploring Ramayana.
The work on this project had begun in the middle of May this year, and by June 21, the beta version of the app was launched. A month later, on July 21, the app was formally launched on Google Play Store and App Store. The app had seen over 1,000 active users on both iOS and Android within a month of its launch.
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In an interaction with the Financial Express Online, Bhuwan said, “No scripture or an ancient story is good or bad, it is the value system that restricts its beauty and essence of creation. With changing times, it is important to adapt to new value systems by representing the richness of such scriptures from an unbiased point of view, in ways that the current generation relates with.”
TheRamayana’s Project Lead Brinda Singh explained what TheRamayana is and what it does. “Built for Android and iOS, TheRamayana app is a virtual museum of the Indian Epic, Ramayana, with more than 350 written and audio short summarised stories, perspective polls and quizzes in Hindi and English, based on Valmiki Ramayana and Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas. The stories have been compiled in an unbiased and impersonal manner,” Brinda said.
Instead of proceeding through the story through a traditional narrative, the app gives the user freedom to explore various stories from unconventional and different narratives which can further be explored with the help of tags and let the user eventually get engulfed by the universe of Ramayana. It has over 90 characters and more than 100 essential landmarks and locations mentioned in Ramayana. After downloading the application, the users can explore stories through ‘Kandas’, characters, locations and curated collection of stories,” Brinda added.
Talking about how TheRamayana came about, Brinda said, “It all started with the re-run of Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana during the COVID-19 nationwide lockdown on Doordarshan. It made us realise the potential of Indian epics and its demand across the country in vernacular media. Thousands of people were searching for Indian mythology online, so we created a product which is easy to consume even for the audience that cannot read.”
Apart from Bhuwan and Brinda, the team at TheRamayana includes 25 college students from across India who were a part of an internship programme.
The Indian culture has a rich collection of religious history and epics across religions. So then how did the team at TheRamayana zone in on, well, Ramayana, you ask? Here’s what Brinda has to say. “India is a secular nation with diverse religions and vibrant cultures. But if there is one epic that binds the 1.35 billion Indians together, it is Ramayana. A nation as culturally diverse as ours boasts of an assortment of around 300 different versions of Ramayana, whose core themes are so broad that they appear in different languages, as its essence has been expressed in a diverse array of regional cultures and artistic mediums,” Brinda told Financial Express Online.
Valmiki’s Ramayana is an epic poem of some 24,000 verses, while in the south, Ramavataram, popularly referred to as Kamba Ramayanam, is a Tamil epic that was written by Tamil poet Kambar during the 12th century. Ramcharitmanas, on the other hand, is an epic poem in Awadhi language, composed by the 16th-century Indian bhakti poet Goswami Tulsidas. Ramayana is a gamut of verses, stories and ideas which continuously enter and only the ones which survive the test of time are celebrated. But, what is often celebrated in India are the emotional bonds. Ramayana is an integral part of special occasions and festivals for most Indians. Likewise, every generation revels in its different type of interpretations to the epic,” she said. “Owing to its popularity, mass appeal and the beauty of interpretations possible for a reader, we chose to begin with Ramayana,” Brinda added.
Is it authentic?
Brinda said, “We have referred to the original texts by Valmiki and Tulsidas for all of the stories. The preference in the order of events has been given to the far older version by Valmiki as one finds disparity in a few cases. Valmiki writes about Rama as an exemplary Prince or King, but still a mortal incarnation of Vishnu, but Tulsidas, being a bhakti poet, writes about Rama as the Supreme God personified.”
She added, “The research process had been to voraciously read the original versions, extract the important stories, crystallise the stories in a crisp and brief manner and map those stories with locations from ancient and current Indian subcontinent. There have been stringent quality checks at each step. We have kept the stories factual, unbiased and as it is – without distorting any facts. It has been made with due diligence and at the same time, in a fun manner to deliver knowledge to the culture and historical enthusiasts. By referring to authentic scientific studies, the dates for important events have been calculated based on the planetary configurations that have been mentioned in Valmiki Ramayana.”
For translations, she said, “Our team included Hindi and English literature scholars who used a combination of technology and manual translation. The audio stories have been recorded by students active in dramatics societies of their colleges.”
The app is available for free download on both iOS and Android, and the stories, the perspective polls and quizzes can be previewed without any charge. However, in order to access the complete stories, the users would have to pay a one-time charge of Rs 249, after which all the stories would become available.
The app also gives a special student discount, which can be accessed by going to TheRamayana’s website.
Future plans of TheRamayana
Our journey has started with TheRamayana, envisioning scriptures beyond the boundaries of religion and we further plan to launch bite-sized and multi-dimensional guides for scriptures such as Bhagavad Gita, the Mahabharata, the Vedas, the Quran, the Bible and other ancient texts to reach out to a wider set of audience in the future. We will be curating more collections of stories and science-based anecdotes from TheRamayana and we aim to launch TheRamayana in all popular Indian languages,” Brinda said.
She added, “Ramayana is the pilot product we launched. We are getting a good response from people of all age groups across India, and TheRamayana has become an epic way to give something thoughtful to parents and siblings. It is also being appreciated by lovers of Indian mythology across the globe. The depth in Indian scriptures is immense. The current generation is not directly engaging with these texts. In the hectic schedules that are pre-planned for most these days, there is hardly any free time to read and learn from the wisdom our ancestors left in these scriptures.”
There were many more scriptures earlier, but unfortunately, a high proportion of them have been lost forever. But we hardly know how to approach even the ones that remain. Either that, or we lack authentic sources to read them. Using the power of technology and by creating an engaging interface for users, we have the opportunity to offer products that the current generation can use easily. In this manner, we can ensure that the knowledge is retained and promoted,” Brinda said.
TheRamayana also launched a Hindi-only application last week.