As Indian classical artists, we often turn to mythology for inspiration. At Navatman, we’ve been diving deep into the Ramayana and the Mahabharata to seek truths about life and art. Today, the world is under siege – from coronavirus, from systemic inequity and persecution, from climate change – and we, the human species, are undergoing the broadest test of our existence. As we look at what is going on around us, we find solace in the ancient tales that have been passed down from generation to generation.
For instance, when creating content, teaching our students, and sharing our culture with others, characters from the Ramayana and Mahabharata illuminate great lessons. Even deeply flawed characters show glimpses of kindness, empathy, selflessness, and righteousness despite their flaws. In our recent conversations, we observed that many of the issues at hand today are exacerbated by the “glamorization of me,” a conditioned sense of entitlement and self-aggrandizement.
Excerpt From The Mahabharata
After losing a game of dice, Draupadi and the Pandavas are exiled to the forest for 12 years. They had accepted the original invitation as well as their eventual loss knowing full well that the system is rigged, that their hardship is inevitable.
During their exile, Draupadi laments to Yudhishthira, “Our persecutor feels no sorrow for us. No regret for our distress. No remorse for his cruel misdeeds. Why must he enjoy luxury with his friends, while we lead destitute lives in the woods? Why do we deserve this woe if we never strayed from the rules? Why do the wicked gain all the pleasures, but the righteous only grief? My heart knows no peace.
Why are you not angry? Why are you not indignant? Why are you not outraged? Your silence is ripping the hearts out of our friends to gratify our foes – foes who mistake your tolerance for incompetence.”
Our epics teach us to focus on we. As a society, we are collectively responsible for how the world will continue to function, thrive, and find its greater good. Our epics remind us that no matter our possessions, accolades, or intentions, all changes when ego drives our path.
Today, as we grapple with the pain of seeing entire groups of people being denied basic human rights, we look to the Ramayana and Mahabharata to rejuvenate us and our audiences with reminders of triumphs and tragedies.
Heroes and villains, angels and demons, provide ideals that we still live by. Artists introspect and bare their own soul against the backdrop of these characters. Each time we explore an epic, there is something new to learn. As we move forward in these unprecedented times of trauma and revolution, artists find stories in the epics that shed light on how to keep going, how to handle pain and suffering, how to be compassionate humans. And so we stay loyal to our role as storytellers and cultural vanguards.