Ramayan
A still from Ramayan | YouTube
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The 1980s were different. Very different. It was the time of skin-tight pants, bangs, mixed tapes, Michael Jackson. Then came Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan, which changed India. But this is 2020, and we have learnt our Hindu mythologies from My Friend Ganesha, Devdutt Pattanaik, Amish Tripathi and newer TV serials like Devon ke Dev – Mahadev and Mahabali Hanuman. In the post-Matrix world, it will be difficult to go back to the slow-moving arrows of old Ramayan now. It has its quaintness value, but it will be difficult to get addicted to it now.

Many of us scoff at badly produced and poorly scripted shows like Sasural Simar Ka and Nagin—mostly watched by the elders our families. While we secretly laugh at the memes lampooning their scripts and characters, here’s our chance to sit back and witness first-hand, a show whose impact on Indian culture, imagination and politics can’t be weighed in numbers or described in words.

The arrows will take a little too long to reach the targets; the VFX might make us cry; and yes, Ram will take five days to meet Sita for her swayamwar. Every now and then, it will break into elaborate songs that never end. But sit back and enjoy, see the excitement in your parents’ eyes as they look for their childhood memories attached with the show, and the inexplicable joy the image of Ram on TV brings to your grandma’s face.


Also read: DD’s Lord Ram, Lord Krishna say Ramayan and Mahabharat hold lessons even for Netflix gen


The epic show

Television shows, many can argue, ironically saw revolutionary change in their production and reach, after online streaming platforms gave us the power to watch TV and movies at our own will. And we stopped watching ‘TV shows’ on ‘TV channels’ all together.

Inarguably, shows like Game Of Thrones (GoT) have had a huge impact on the people’s collective imagination whose catchphrases and dialogues have become a part of our vocabulary. You can’t argue with the show’s popularity and influence, whose finale was watched by some 19.3 million people.

Despite its global success, GoT doesn’t even come close to the kind of frenzy and influence Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan had on India. GoT’s ‘record-breaking’ finale viewership cowers before the massive 80-100 million viewership Ramayan garnered when Indians huddled around their TV sets every Sunday to get a darshan (view) of their gods.


Also read: Ramayan kept an entire country indoors 33 yrs ago, but some doubt if it can do it again


God’s on TV

In a 1988 article, ThePrint’s Media Editor, Shailaja Bajpai, a journalist with The Indian Express back then wrote, “Never before, and maybe never again, will there be another quite like it. From Kanyakumari to Kashmir, from Gujarat to Gorakhpur, millions have stood, sat and kneeled to watch it. Millions more have fought, shoved and keeled over, watching it.”

Imagine the kind of power the show wielded on Indians: the country would come to a standstill for an hour every Sunday when it was aired. People would leave their footwear outside of their living rooms to watch the telecast, as if they were entering a temple. Many would put garland and a tika on the television set, and sit on the floor with their heads covered and hands folded in prayer to see the epic unfold.

The show would virtually bring the country to a standstill for that one hour, with people scrambling to get near the TV sets, wherever they may be—in their living rooms or of their neighbour’s. Even the government had to re-schedule urgent meetings when Ramayan was on air.

I have heard stories about people’s euphoria when it came to watching the mythological TV series. My grandfather, an IPS officer, who was posted in an interior part of Rajasthan and had a TV, would tell me how people used to knock at his door every Sunday morning to watch the show.


Also read: Not just Ramayan, Mahabharat, DD to also re-run Circus and Byomkesh Bakshi during lockdown


Arun Govil as lord Ram

As lord Ram, the show turned out to be a magnum opus for Arun Govil. Such was the character’s impact that the actor couldn’t really bag any big roles after the show ended. His image as India’s ‘maryada pushottam’ was so deeply ingrained that he would prove unconvincing in any other role.

Famously, when Govil visited a Varanasi Ghat in his Ram costume, over one million people came to greet him.  Some, with teary eyes. On many instances people would approach him, asking him if they could touch his feet, their eyes sparkling with admiration. This kind of celebration of celebrities is exclusive to India.

We may not have that level of fan following for the TV stars these days, like we had for the original Ram, but his return is definitely an opportunity for many of us to witness and observe what exactly made him a cult.

Views are personal.

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20 Comments Share Your Views

20 COMMENTS

  1. I fail to understand some of the reactions above. There are some stories that are deeply embedded in a nation’s psyche. The epics of India, have been compared by serious scholars to the Illiad and the Odessy. Has anyone even seen the kind of viewership these so called ” old hat re runs of actors in tacky outfits ” have generated.??? DD has now the highest viewership in the Hindi hearland, and being a Southie sitting in Pune, I have realised already that 9+ am is not a time to call anyone in Chennai or Bangalore. Where does any BJP agenda come into this brilliant idea of whichever beauraucrat who got it. Millions of people now stuck at home and now have hours of emottive reasons to stay indoors. What other weapons at hand does our country have? And tacky dresses or not, Evan the humblest street play of our epics draws a crowd. Does the least intelligent viewer not know that the face paint is peeling. And that Ravan was not supposed to have a pot belly? Or that Hanuman’s tail is supossed to be supple and not rigid like a stick? But it does not even bother them as they are engrossed in the story that transcends any other that the subcontinent has ever seen, and one that loses nothing in the 100th re telling. There is something there , is it not ? Someone says Ramayan is a real story and not a mythology? Does it matter? Does it matter if Rama really walked the earth or not? The ideas that were embedded on the tale, right and wrong, concept of justice, nuances of decisions ( should I take Valis help or Sugrivas ?) Are what rivet people to the tale. The tale is ours, it is Indian, and someone had the wit to park it again on TV at a troubled time. “And the people listened , and their minds became calm, and doubt fled, and men hoped again “. The last is my own statement, it seems Biblical in its majesty , and I am impressed with myself. Happy watching,

  2. What percent of Indian population watch Game of Thrones (May be less than 2℅). And you are comparing that with Ramayana.

  3. Also the government should understand that serials based on Hindu Gods were OK during non Internet era. With you tube etc when new generation of foreign nationals see our Gods in glamorous attire, which is not what the real gods used to wear in their period l, it can go to ugly level in European countries. Then we should not protest that our sentiments have been hurt.

    • This is not an epic only. This is our history.
      One shouldn’t be ashamed of, nonetheless embrace it.
      If I ask you what happened 5000 years ago, you are bound to narrate this because every legend across India (as well as outside like Malaysia, Bali, Java,Sumatra, Sri lanka, Singapore) have same storyline with minor changes.
      Moreover, if your mother wore saree (or burqa) and your wife wears bikini, you shouldn’t feel ashamed of the former.
      Culture is bound to change over time.
      But the current history is such that it glamorize westerners.
      Bapu, only with a dhoti, ousted the gentlemen.

      If you are fond of books, please read “The land of seven Rivers” by Sanjeev Sanyal.
      Or on YouTube please watch J. Sai Deepak’s “Indic Renaissance”.

    • This is not an epic only. This is our history.
      One shouldn’t be ashamed of, nonetheless embrace it.
      If I ask you what happened 10000 years ago, you are bound to narrate this because every legend across India (as well as outside like Malaysia, Bali, Java,Sumatra, Sri lanka, Singapore) have same storyline with minor changes.
      Moreover, if your mother wore saree (or burqa) and your wife wears bikini, you shouldn’t feel ashamed of the former.
      Culture is bound to change over time.
      But the current history is such that it glamorize westerners.
      Bapu, only with a dhoti, ousted the gentlemen.

      If you are fond of books, please read “The land of seven Rivers” by Sanjeev Sanyal.
      Or on YouTube please watch J. Sai Deepak’s “Indic Renaissance”.

    • U r sounding like one studied in foreign country and now His or her parents attire is old fashioned and he or she will hesitate to take their parents to new world.
      Also advice what attire real gods wear and what proof u have for the same.

  4. Poorly written article. Poorly formatted. Not impressive and bland. Seems like the writer has no interest whatsoever in this, may it be history or a myth.

  5. Retlecast of mythological serials is indeed one way of consolidating votes of particular community and “novel” virus has come as a “novel” way helping Doordarshan. The question still remains lock down has support all section, why this favour to only majority, what about other communities. I think Bharat Ek Khoj, Tamas, Sanja Chula, Tipu Sultan, Buniyaad, Hum Log, Fauji,, the list is countless which caters to all. The radio program Jaymala, Fauji Bhaiyon, Western classic music program Date With You, Forces Request can bring back pas for present generation to enjoy. I know Bharat Ek Khoj, may not gel with current dispensation as it is based on the most disliked first PM by PM and all his devotees

  6. You perennial depressed sadistic Print… It brings equal joy watching Ramayana for millennials too… You hindu haters will never understand it… It’s extreme happiness when my 6 years old nephew watches it with without getting bored.

  7. You perennial depressed sadistic Print… It brings equal joy watching Ramayana for millennials too… You hindu haters will never understand it… It’s extreme happiness when my 6 years old nephew watches it with without getting bored.

  8. Great read. I can distinctly remember the frenzy! Tiktok generation of today would have no idea what we are talking here 🙂

  9. I couldn’t read full article when I see you calling our real history ramayan as mythology may be you have studied in christian missionary school n you are brainwashed like others.

  10. Good to read. Back then, there was a novelty in every aspect, It was a first kind of live experience of RAMAYANA on small screen , plus social-political atmosphere was uniquely conducive,.. Social scientists would agree to it, that It goes hand in hand with Ram Janmabhoomi Andolan, now that part is, done and dusted. But yes, it will help capture older generation’s imagination, make them nostalgic, for a while.
    But one should remember, this Modi government doesn’t do anything without politics attached to it.
    This time, it wanted to kill many birds in one shot. Make people follow lock down, create charged up atmosphere for Ram Mandir Nirman process, etc…After all BJP’s politics mainly revolves around Dharma and Bhagwan , Be it a time of Corona virus and chaos among migrants, it will benefit BJP one or the other way…even if it may look insensitive to many…

    • Poorly written article. Poorly formatted. Not impressive and bland. Seems like the writer has no interest whatsoever in this, may it be history or a myth.

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