Indian Myth Saves the Day

a. The Ramayana is an ancient Indian Sanskrit tale (a mythical poem that many believe to be true) about Prince Rama’s quest to rescue his wife Sita from Ravana, the king of Lanka. It is said to have been written by the sage Valmiki, and dates from roughly 500 BCE to 100 BCE (more than 2500 years ago).

Rama, prince of Ayodhya (present-day UP, North India), earns the hand of princess Sita, but is banished for 14 years with her and his brother Laksmana due to his stepmother’s machinations. Ravana kidnaps Sita in the forest, and Rama assembles an army of monkeys and bears (vanar: can be translated into ‘forest dwellers’)  to track her down. The allies launch an invasion on Lanka (present-day Sri Lanka), killing Ravana and rescuing Sita. Sita enters fire to prove her chastity, and is vindicated by the gods and returned to her husband. Rama’s righteous rule begins a golden age for all mankind after the couple’s successful return to Ayodhya.

The SF elements in the epic are the powerful weapons––weapons as powerful and advanced, if not more, as today’s nuclear weapons, that Rama consistently uses throughout his journey, and the infamous pushpak vimana (airplane), not just a machine or palace that can fly into space or navigate underwater, but it also has the power to destroy entire cities, that Ravana possess but uses only for transportation. Such weapons and airplanes were imagined 2500+ years ago, but no one seems to be surprised by them. Ramayana is not exclusively looked at as ‘science-fiction,’ but it consists of many elements that lead us to believe in its ability to become a science-fiction. The reason majority of Indians do not focus on the SF parts of the epic is because they keep focusing on the racial and religious part, which has led to countless real socio-political revolutions in the country. Many of the things that occur in Ramayana are a result of this inherent need to uphold one’s dharma. Everything the protagonist does and goes through is due to his duty towards the ‘Hindu-Aryan dharma.’

There is a detailed account of races that the Aryan invaders subjected or exterminated. Rama and his people (Aryans) are fair-skinned, mannered, and virtuous, while Ravana’s people (Dravidians) are dark-skinned savages referred to as the hated rakshasas (demons). Rama is often described as god-like, while Ravana is the demon-king. The Vedic texts, which were deeply concerned with questions of purity and contamination, divided people into varnas (“colors”), the highest of which was a priestly caste called to set themselves apart from the others. The Sanskrit epics Ramayana and Mahabharata were integrated into Hindu tradition during the early Hindu period (c. 300 B.C.E.–500 C.E.). These scriptures established four hierarchical varna classes (Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra), which evolved into larger groups that included caste (jati) clusters. Although non-Vedic and non-Aryan sources are used in Hinduism, Vedic literature and Aryan civilization are viewed as the foundation of the religion.

The epic is considered one of the most important literary works of ancient India, and it has had a significant impact on art and culture on the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, with variants of the story appearing in the Buddhist canon from the beginning. Some of India’s finest works have repeated Rama’s story in poetic and dramatic renditions, as well as in narrative sculptures on temple walls. It is a mainstay of later dramatic traditions, having been re-enacted in dance-dramas, theater, and retold in novels and films. Rama has always been the one true and righteous protagonist in almost all the adaptations even though there are many accounts and factors that suggest otherwise, while Ravana is always portrayed as the evil, ten-headed demon king even though accounts suggest that he was a great scholar, a maestro, and a capable ruler. Rama is worshipped in most parts of India, while Ravana is worshipped in some parts of South India and Sri Lanka.

b. I want to focus on the part of the epic that suggests how recklessly Rama used weapons in order to destroy everything in his wake, while Ravana refrained from using his strongest and deadly weapon, the flying palace, the airplane. I’d like to switch the approach to this mythical epic than what I was taught.

In 1992, the demolition of Babri Masjid was illegally carried out by a large extremist group, with the support of allied organizations and the majority Hindu population, called Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP. trans. Universal Hindu Council). The 16th-century Masjid in Ayodhya was targeted by claiming the ground to be Rama’s birthplace in order to incite religious hatred against Muslims. VHP organized a campaign for the construction of a temple dedicated to Rama at the site with BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party, also the current ruling party) backing them. They organized a rally at the site involving 150,000+ volunteers, that turned extremely violent, and tore down the mosque. The demolition resulted in several months of rioting between the Hindu and Muslim communities which caused 2000+ deaths.

I want to bring a science-fictional alternate perspective and outcome to this specific incident. I wish to create the same scenario but with the Hindu volunteers having armed themselves with the technologically advanced weapons (same as the ones Rama possessed), and South Indians coming to the rescue of the persecuted Muslim communities with their flying castle (same as the one Ravana possessed). The technologies will be inspired by the ancient descriptions, but altered to suit the contemporary times. The descendants of the protagonists will no longer be the heroes.

c. There are many films, articles, and novels that provide multiple perspective of Ramayana such as the book Scion of Ikshvaku, an animated film Ramayana: the legend of prince Rama, articles[1][2] favoring Ravana, that I will use as my theoretical frameworks along with Studio Ghibli’s Castle in the Sky as my artistic as well as theoretical framework for world-building. I will also be referencing articles such as https://thewire.in/communalism/babri-masjid-the-timeline-of-a-demolition to know more about the incident that took place over the years.

d. If I figure out which software to use, and if I get access to that software, I plan to create a zoom quilt made up of illustrations that will depict the story. An example of a zoom quilt: https://heracleum.org/art/iz1/ Zoom quilts create the effect of an interactive 3D space while being 2D, and I believe that to be the most appropriate way to build the scenarios I have imagined.

 

 

[1] https://www.scoopwhoop.com/a-demon-for-us-but-a-hero-for-sri-lankans-ravana/

[2] https://www.dnaindia.com/lifestyle/salon-where-ravana-is-a-hero-scholar-warrior-lover-1093390