Ramayana is an age old epic said to have been written by Valmiki, who was himself a reformed dacoit called Ratnakar. Ratnakar took to crime to feed his hungry family.
Uttara Kanda, the seventh book of Ramayana explains it all in details. Sage Narada, a character who shuttles between heaven and Earth in Hindu lore, asked the bandit to check with his family if they would stand by him if he were punished. When they said they would not, the dacoit turned to God. Ratnakar was so ferocious that he could not pronounce the name on which Narada asked him to meditate and said ‘Mara‘ which means death. Eventually, he was covered by an anthill and the ‘mara‘ had become Rama. Then he created one of the greatest epic in the history of mankind Sanskrit, Ramayana.
Down the ages, it was converted to multiple languages, some of them being — Persian in the Mughal court, Awadhi Hindi by Tulsidas (1532-1623), Kannada, Tamil and more. The Tamil one was translated by famed novelist RK Narayanan into English as far back as 1972. Now, it has been proliferated into dozens of lore by the likes of Devdutt Patnaik, Chitra Divakaruni, Amish Tripathi and many more.
Recently Dastangoi revivalist, Mahmood Farooqui, adapted this lore for the inmates of Tihar jail, a prison in New Delhi. He used a version by Raghunandan Sahir which fulfilled the needs of uneducated prisoners in Tihar.
Farooqui says this version from 1979 “was replete with ghazals, geets, nazms and shayari* and, in conformance with most medieval literature including the Guru Granth Sahib, often the tarz, or the tune, of the song was also suggested. Sita’s song of lament, it was proffered, should be sung to the tune of Sehgal’s immortal song Gham Diye Mustaqil (Grief is Permanent). It also had the right kind of dialaagbazi (jokes) which is the quintessence of a heroic performance in India, from NT Rama Rao to Amitabh Bachchan and Rajnikanth. So we used the text to supplement the lived memory of some of our actors and chose eight key episodes.”
Read more about Farooqui’s journey in finding the right text and adapting it to prison needs in his own words from this article in Hindustan Times.
*Ghazals, nazms, geet and shayari are different techniques of rendering poetry in Urdu, Hindi or Hindustani.
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