The beauty of mythological stories such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata lies in their varied interpretations where every region has a different version. While some stories focus on the heroes of the epic, others narrate the viewpoint of the villain. So, while the Ramayana has been narrated for thousands of years, it continues to undergo subtle changes as it is narrated and passed on from person to person.
Understanding this phenomenon, Kiski Kahani: The Ramayana Project was formed to celebrate the diversity of the Ramayana tradition. Their aim was to explore the traditions and become a repository of stories from the epic, along with interpretations and visual representations. Based at Open Space in Pune, the Project seeks to document and archive Ramayana narratives from across India while looking at creating new narratives through workshops, film screenings, lectures and discussions.
The 30-minute film Bheetar Lagi was made in March by Smriti Wadhwa as part of the Project. The film tells the story of the Manganiyar community of musicians, their lives in and out of music and their culture, which embodies India’s pluralism and diversity.
This Friday, the film will be screened and it will be followed by a workshop and discussion with Smriti Wadhwa and Imran Ali Khan (Project Co-ordinator of Kiski Kahani) on the theme of cultural plurality.
Imran Ali Khan explains, “The Manganiyar community have been Muslims for nearly 8 generations but sing poems of Kabir, Tulsidas, Meerabai and others. We felt they stood for a pluralistic tradition that is intrinsic to their cultural understanding. They are now mainstream and travel with their music and perform all over the world.” The film looks at this community, how they see themselves in the 21st century, their relationship between generations, their musical tradition as well as their life outside of their musical tradition.
At most of their screenings they were quizzed on the lives of the performers. “Given that they are now quite mainstream, most people want to know how the community adapts to the changing roles they have taken on,” adds Khan.
“The idea is to explore the pluralistic tradition and the diversity that is intrinsic to their community — a diversity that we take for granted and often forget,” believes Khan.