Watch With Me -- #2 : Indian Television Series & The Ancient Sanskrit Epic of "Mahabharat"

10/01/2013 11:04:00 PM




Is there ever been a story as gray as mahabharat?

About 9 days back, later at night, I was quite nonchalantly searching for something on youtube and at a moment, just jumped off the bed, very unlikely of me that, but since of course I couldn't shout out loud. Well, they're right when they say that, "its one thing to find what you're looking for, and its other when you find what you perhaps thought wasn't there".

The find of the night was "Mahabharat" the 94 episodes tele series that was aired in India in late 80s. Actually It would be less aggrandizing if I just use the words such as cult, epic and record breaking etc, because it was way more than that. for me it was one of my most memorable childhood experience, and thats one of the reasons, why I am writing about it here right now.

Mahabharat is a 5000 years old sanskrit epic originally written by muni ved vyasa, a revered figure, who also believed to have written vedas, and purans, the pillars of ancient hindu literature. There are many translations available in the language such as Hindi, English, Tamil etc. For those who still can not identify Mahabharat, I am sure you have heard about Bhagwad Geeta, which is very much a small yet significant part of this book, if not you really need to google and you can start from here -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahabharata


from the literature that is available, Ramayana is the most popular in masses and is recited in many forms, be it yearly Ramleela ( The annual play that ends with the festival of Dussehra), occasional section-readings at home and in temples and as regular holy book. such is not the case with Mahabharat. and one of the reason for that is, this one is HUGE. I remember flipping through the pages of two really fat and heavy books, at the time I couldn't even lift em off.

Geeta Saar Episode - 73 of Mahabharat, One of my favorite 

So if I can recall, this is how it happened. I must be 6 or 7 i think. This was the time when weekend looked and felt like weekends. we had the regular run of Ramayana on the only Indian channel Doordarshan at that time, and along with that were some really good stuff like regional movies and weekly series. 90% of the neighbors dint have TV then, so no matter how much they fight with each other contrarily, they all used to get together on sunday, watch it with full attention and back-talked during breaks. Or let me say, that was one time when everyone forgot what problem in the world they were going through, and spent a happy hour indulged in entertaining themselves throughly, This Indian phenomenon grew in leaps and bound for next 2 years during the times of Mahabharata.


Youtube channel to watch the entire series http://www.youtube.com/channel/SWxRn9CjdSZxU


We had a small 2B house in delhi, which could hardly accommodate the entire neighborhood, but it was even more fun during the summer vacation in village. I still remember seeing a folk moot of 100 people in squatting position in a 40 degree slope outdoor courtyard listening carefully to every word coming of the black and white idiot box, I wonder if anyone sitting far behind could see anything in that 14inch screen. ambrosial it was to hear their mild laughter and smile on their faces and the ways they extolled and exalted the heroes and disparaged the villains out of the characters. perhaps this is where I got that habit of observing people from.


I dont have to mention that India was at its peaceful best during these telecasts, because streets and roads were deserted, a sight, 5% of which you can still see during cricket world cups but those were really the days.

So what brought it so much attention? The fact that India's spirituality comes from these stories told in history and mythology, and its people's faith lies so strongly in 3,300,000 of the super humans or gods that literature has given them. Mahabharat, as a story is the titan of all the stories the world. or let me say, its a collection of stories, actually so the vol 1 of it is. and second is all war. It does go well with the tag line, that whatever is there in the world, it is there in this book and whatever is not there in the book you wont find it elsewhere. so there is good, there is evil and everything in b/w that could exist in the world is part of it, be it relationships or human emotions, and honestly, because I saw this series, and read the book later in my childhood, before venturing out in the real world, it makes me feel better and I try to focus in good side of the world. because I know, this world has always been bad, and Its not that being bad is anything new, at the same time its not entirely bad either. heterogeneous is what it is and has always been so. seriously I am not kidding.

So, I was saying, that Mahabharat was not well read, not many people knew the entire story, and since it is very ambidextrous at many places, it is still hardly recited or anything. The two important extensions, first Shrimad Bhagwat, i.e. the story of Lord Krishna, is generally recited at long (7 days) religious gatherings, and Bhagwad Geeta, is actually the most popular of all. Hence suddenly when the series came out, it was an instant hit.


making of mahabharat series.

Last week, when I watched the entire series again, after all these years, it wasn't just the time I spent indulging in to the past. unconsciously, I was also reviewing my past life, how I was influenced by this epic, how I interpreted those many stories that I recited in my classroom and together how everything shaped up my life. honestly, quite nasty of these text books to teach little kids from, because they are a little impractical and unrealistic. when you're out in the world, its real, less nice and more deceitful, people using people for their own benefits and of course playing with emotions. Mahabharat in a way is more factual and levelheaded, and it can genuinely tell you how to act in what situation. By the way, that doesnt always mean, you'll always get victory out of doing it, you'd definitely suffer, like I have, but imho its moral.

I can go on writing about the book, but that wont serve the purpose here, The reason I am writing the post here is to make sure that you watch the series, and then you go look at the literature, because I am sure you wouldn't be able to stop yourself. The series is the most authentic work I have ever seen, with only appropriate carefully chosen, no drama, dialogues in pure hindi, plus well picked actors, who transformed in to human form of the gods, no one ever saw but always imagined they would have been like them.

Last week when I was doing the Mahabharat Marathon, I researched a little if there were anything supplementary that was available on internet. since its an old series, there are hardly anything on the internet, I mean you wont even find images of these actors forget the interviews or news clips. the above is the only making that I could find. and it actually did answer why this series turned in to legend, Why these actors are still so adored by anyone who ever saw them.

What can one comment about film technology 25 years back? There are many parts which could have used high tech CGI effects, and I am sure those scenes would have been other worldly if they were shot now. but to be honest, the backdrop and special affects dint matter that much then because, these actors still made it other worldly. Their voice modulations, their dictions, their poise and expressions, they made it look like if the gods themselves landed right from heaven in the tv box, if that wasn't the case, people wont have followed them everywhere or touched their feet for blessings. some of them still do. I would take it away from Himesh Bhimani, and entire behind the scene team including music and technicians, if I wont mention them. But my blog is very small a space to write in details, this is when, I m guessing half my readers must still be wondering Why I am writing a post about this. You know, My blog isn't an Advertising board or a Teaser board for the travels I do, facebook is enough for that. Tell you what, you watch it once, and tell me if you don't fall in love with Lord Krishna, Pitamah Bheeshma or Karna.

I, with my blogs/ photography or recently launched #travelindia always try to put up a side of India I know and learned through years. But I can only show it to certain extent. I think literature is very important to understand any culture, and when it comes to India it is something mandatory to know why India is like the way it is. I wouldnt call this just mythology, but history, because thats what I believe it is.

So watch it if you want to get a picture of real India, watch it if you want to understand the world and why it exists, watch it for you'd know, that gratitude is the paramount of all emotions, and doing what is right is the best way to live life. if you don't want to go that deep, watch it just for pleasure, and for people who made it, for together they created something truly enchanting, and perhaps something, that will be very hard to recreate ever again.

Once you're done with the series, You can also read the book/s. I am still looking for the sanskrit version and if not the Hindi version published my Geeta press gorakhpur ( the oldest I know for religious book in India) But as I mentioned above, there are multiple versions that are available in different languages, e.g.

http://www.holybooks.com/mahabharata-all-volumes-in-12-pdf-files/
http://www.holybooks.com/the-mahabharata-of-vyasa-english-prose-translation/

I will add more links as and when I find them.

Here is the only recent writing - http://caravanmagazine.in/arts/show-shows?page=0,1 that I found about the series. its a long, good article, heavily inspired by the above "making of mahabharat video" and also has some interesting facts about the impact of the series. something I dont' want to get in to, because thats beyond the scope of what I want to convey here.

Few more Articles -

Everyone's beloved Krishna, Dr. Nitish Bhardwaj interview w/ rediff - http://www.rediff.com/movies/slide-show/slide-show-1-mahabharats-krishna-is-back-tv/20130522.htm

Oh BTW only 2 days ago, my bro told me about new Mahabharat series on one of the india channels, so I went ahead checked promos and slices of episodes that were available in US, and what can I say, umm.. Dont watch. it s**ks. You can probably watch Mahadev, because the lead is good, but unfortunately thats all what they got right in the entire series.  

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