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"Ithihasas" and their Influences

In Indian classical music, it is very common to find many leading artists of Muslim faith singing the praise of Lord Rama and Lord Krishna, the leading characters of India's famous Hindu epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata.

I often marvel at the pervasive influence of these epics on Indian population. These epics are also known as Ithihasas, (it happened thus) because they are supposed to be eye witness accounts.

Among Indians, The main characters in these epics and their stories are folklore. It is not an exaggeration to say that these epics have created a common bond among the multi various cultural, religious and economic classes of the Indian nation.

In India, when children fight, the elders would often say, "Don't quarrel like Kauravas and Pandavas, meaning the warring cousins of Mahabharata.

A well functioning Government is often called Rama Rajya (ideal government ruled by Lord Rama).

A person with a huge appetite is chastised as "Gadodgaja"

(son of Bhima in Mahabharata).

A faithful friend is compared to "Hanuman" the monkey God.

An ideal brother is praised as Lord Rama's brother, "Bharata".

A faithful wife is celebrated as an incarnation of Rama's wife Sita.

A devious person is portrayed as the Mahabharata character "Sakuni".

A mischievous child often reminds many Indians of baby Lord Krishna.

Surprisingly, these classics act as universal language among Indians, regardless of their dialect, geographic location, caste, religion, social and economic status, or education.

Indians in all parts of India have heard these stories over and over again.

They have heard them from their parents and teachers.

More importantly, they have heard them from public lectures and discourses that are constantly present in live and remote media.

Scholars have studied them and taught the art of life through them.

Dr. Madhu Jindal states in her article, "Religious Influence on Indian Literature",

"The great Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata transcend the description of mere classics. They are a source of unfailing and everlasting inspiration."

While Ramayana is the story of a perfect human being, Mahabharata contains several stories of human faults, follies and imperfections.

In effect, while Ramayana portrays an ideal life, Mahabharata mirrors the real life.

The Greco Roman mythologies of Iliad and Odyssey remain great classics.

Whereas, the Indian Ithihasas continue to form the moral code in India.

According to philosopher Saint Sri Aurobindo, these epics "represent Indian way of life and a view of family system and society. These epics represent an overview of ancient Indian culture and traditions which are still carried by Indians. They give us mental strength and poise in difficult times. Religion has always been the life force of Indians."

The question arises. How long can this continue?

Within India, influences of the epics remain strong.

What about the growing Indian community outside India, particularly, in the United States? How much of an influence these epics will continue to have on the Indian immigrant families in the U.S.?

We the first generation of Asian Indian immigrants carry the influence of Ithihas by default. The second generation was taught these stories in the foreign environment. Thus, the second generation may know some of the stories but may not grasp the full context, message or lessons from them. The future generation of these migrants will neither know these stories nor their significance to daily life.

Fifty years ago, when our generation of Asian Indian immigrants moved to this country, we tried to preserve our culture by building Hindu Temples all over the America.

Now, in America, we have over 450 Hindu temples.

Year around, Hindu rites, rituals and religious functions are performed everywhere in the country. But unfortunately, the positive influence of the Ithihas among Asian Indians in the U.S. is waning.

May be we need more story tellers of Ithihas than storied edifices of Temples.

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