A new Mahabharata is being released as not just a book, but also bite-sized MP3 audio chapters and comic books downloadable onto your iPad, bringing continued interest in India’s spiritual classics into the 21st century.
While author Sriram Raghavan is not an ISKCON member, ISKCON devotees may be interested in his bright, dynamic retelling of the ancient text, especially for their children.
For Sriram, the connection to epics like the Mahabharata and Ramayana is a deep and personal one that began as a youngster in Chennai, India.
“When I was three years old, I lost my dad,” he says. “Once I started going to school and seeing kids’ dads dropping them off and picking them up, I started to feel out of place. So I asked my great-grandparents, ‘Why is it that I’m the only kid who doesn’t have a dad?’ They replied, ‘You’re not! Arjuna, Bhima, Yudhistira, Nakula, and Sahadeva also lost their dad. And they went on to become some of the best people in the world.’”
Hearing about the Pandava heros of the Mahabharata and their story, Sriram says, completely removed the stigma of being fatherless for him. From then on, his great-grandparents continued to teach him story after story from the Vedas and Puranas.
Years later, after moving to the US in 1999 to work as an IT manager in Buffalo, New York, Sriram found himself thinking about those stories again, and how they had taught him spiritual life lessons that weren’t taught in college.
These stories had made a huge difference in his life, and he wanted to pass that gift on to not only his own children and grandchildren – but also to many other children and their parents.
“The scriptures are always available, but without reinforcement, without a structure, it is very difficult to motivate people to go back to them,” he says. According to Sriram, ISKCON is one organization that has “played a fundamentally important role in providng that structure of reinforcement.”
“ISKCON has played a significant role in reinforcing going back to roots, values, scriptures, and God,” he says.
For his part, Sriram first began to reinforce these values by retelling the Mahabharata on Youtube in audio chapters lasting ten minutes, which he says is the maximum attention span most people have today.
He then began speaking live every week at the Hindu Cultural Society temple in Buffalo, which he still does today. A dynamic storyteller, he relates the Mahabharata to contemporary life and involves his audience in his presentations, inspiring children and parents to continue learning. Each talk is also webcast live on Google Hangouts.
Once Sriram began his talks in Buffalo, word spread and he was invited to tell his stories to Hindu communities in Boston, Washington D.C., Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina.
Expanding his work further, he released the first in a projected three-volume book series called Mahabharata for the 21st Century: Dad, Mom and Child, suitable for children eight and up.With 144 pages telling the complete story of the Mahabharata in prose, it includes fifty color pictures, and comes with an audio MP3 CD of ten-minute chapters, narrated by Sriram.
When customers began asking for material for their younger children, Sriram added yet another project to his roster, and this summer he has so far released the first two of an ambitious twenty comic-book series for the Apple iPad.
Illustrated with bright, colorful verve by professional Chennai-based freelance artists, the digital comic features an interactive element – readers can press a speaker icon embedded in the picture to hear the page read out loud to them.
So far, readers have enjoyed all these presentations of the classic story, with one commenting, “My son read it completely in one sitting.”
Sriram has a busy release schedule ahead of him – the second and third volumes of his Mahabharata for the 21st Century are coming out in December 2014 and May 2015. A new book in his iPad comic-book series is set to be released every two months. And new versions of the comics, due in September, will have the audio narrated in six languages -- English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Sanskrit – by children from all over the US.
“I figured the more the children get involved in the production of the content, the more they will learn,” he says.
Meanwhile, a Ramayana book with an audio MP3 CD is due in two parts in September 2015 and January 2016, and the Panchatantra is due in May 2016. And after that Sriram will work on more Puranas, including the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
How he finds the time to produce all of this while working full-time as an IT manager is hard to imagine, but Sriram seems unphased by his busy schedule, and driven by the inspiration to share the ancient wisdom of India with everybody he comes in contact with.
“Contrary to what we may believe, we always have time,” he says. “You just have to follow the basic rules: persevere; and do only a little bit, but consistently, even if it’s just five or ten minutes.”
“Besides,” he says, smiling, “This is not really work; it’s learning – and learning is joy.”
To purchase Sriram Raghavan’s Mahabharata books, comic books for iPAD, and audio books, please visit http://mahabharatastory.com/.[ book-review ] [ mahabharata ]