The Ramayana––Valmiki’s story of the triumph of good over evil––has caught the imagination of Indians for centuries. It permeates every aspect of our culture, traversing the boundaries of religious affiliations and personal preferences. The text that offers numerous life lessons is a work of literary genius with aspirational and well-etched characters, and a story that sets the bar for entertainment quite high.
From Ramleelas performed in local neighbourhoods to its first televised edition in the 1980s which was re-run in 2020 to entertain masses in lockdown, the story has only grown in its appeal. As one of the strongest proponents of Indian mythology in the modern age, bestselling author Amish Tripathi says it best, “No Indian hears the Ramayana for the first time, we are born with the knowledge of it.”
Cognisant of this fact, discovery+ and Wide Angle Films collaborated with him for a three-part docuseries called Legends of the Ramayana With Amish, to present this age-old tale from a new perspective. Apart from being a bestselling author, Tripathi is a diplomat, columnist, and has been the director of The Nehru Centre in London since October 2019. This TV series marks his foray into the screen space.
“I like putting myself in uncomfortable situations because that is how you grow. I was a banker for 14 years, and had no idea about publishing. Then I became a full-time writer before moving on to government service which is a different ball-game altogether. Initially, I was uncomfortable but then I grew in that sphere too. Now, the screen is another world for me to grow in. discovery+ and Wide Angle Films developed this show together for over a year, and by the time they approached me, it was pretty well-baked. I’m told I was their first choice which is a brave move, because I’d never done anything like this. Fortunately, it was right up my alley,” says Tripathi over a Zoom call.
This three-episode (40-50 minutes each) series, the first of which released on April 7, maps the 5,000 km journey made by Lord Rama in the original text. En route, Tripathi shares a wealth of knowledge on the subject by interviewing experts, sharing lesser-known anecdotes culled from popular literature and folklore, and highlighting key locations from the text that history seems to have forgotten over the ages.
“While there have been multiple iterations of the Ramayana, at discovery+ we wanted to dig deeper and present interesting details that are less spoken of. We couldn’t have asked for a better host than Amish Tripathi. His enormous popularity as a writer and immense expertise in mythology make him a seamless fit for this series. As he embarks on this epic adventure, his narration backed with anecdotes and reasoning is sure to make this series a spellbinding watch,” says Megha Tata, Managing Director - South Asia, Discovery Inc.
Sticking to the signature style of documentary presentation, the teams from discovery+ and Wide Angle Films spoke to 13 personalities from various fields–– historians, mythological researchers, authors, scholars, a hydrogeologist, a descendent of the Vijayanagara Dynasty, a temple trustee, a speleologist who specialises in caves and cave systems, an ex-bureaucrat and more.
On the basis of this collective knowledge, they strung together interesting titbits from the Ramayana that not many are aware of. From the fact that Lord Rama had an elder sister to the curious origins of the Ishwaku dynasty; from defining the importance of the number 11 to highlighting the fascinating Ramnami community from Chhattisgarh, members of which treat their bodies as temples to Lord Rama by tattooing his name from head to foot. When mythology is deeply associated with religion, it is easy for the latter to outshine the cultural significance of the story. Yet, with this show, the cultural and historical side of the legend comes out most strongly.
Tripathi summarises this sentiment, “We were a multi-religious crew, consisting of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians. After few days, it hit us that we were walking on the steps of Lord Rama. It made you feel so special. By the end of it, we were all greeting each other with ‘Jai Shri Ram’ or as in the case of some of the younger crew members, ‘JSR’–– an acronym for this greeting!”
The first episode of the show titled ‘The Sacred Journey’ released on discovery+ on April 7, followed by ‘The Search for Sita’ on April 14. The final episode ‘The Many Faces of Ravana’ will come out on April 28.