Growing up on the laps of our grandparents and other family members, it was easy for our generation to learn the many mythological stories of Hinduism. We heard these stories over and over and it became a part of our consciousness. Nowadays families are growing up separated by hundreds of miles or even continents, and it’s much harder to share these tales with our own children. There are a million distractions in our daily life – from our careers to the lure of checking facebook just one more time – and even we are starting to forget the smaller details of these stories.
My almost 6-year-old son adores hearing Hindu mythological stories. They have everything a little boy could want in them; brave heroes, frightening demons and villains, magic and mystery, fierce battles and of course, the triumph of good over evil. Thanks to my background in Bharata Natyam dance, I’ve memorized many of these stories and able to tell them to him on request. But even so, I find myself forgetting the names and particular characteristics of a certain demon sometimes, or just who received a boon from whom.
Thankfully there are many wonderful tools out there to help us relate these stories to our kids, and now with mobile media exploding globally, we can expect even more resources to be created that can ensure these stories are never lost. With so much media out there to sort through, it can be overwhelming to choose what to try with your kids. And sometimes you might find (as I did while browsing various Krishna cartoons on YouTube) that some adaptations are just too violent or confusing for our Western sensibilities.
I’ve personally waded my way through many, many mythological movies and books, and here are some of my favorite picks for kids of all ages.
Most of us caught at least a few episodes of Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan or Mahabharat tv series as kids, but it’s difficult to capture our kids’ attention with the long, melodramatic dialogues and repetitive close-ups of these shows. As a child some of my favorite movies were Rajshri Pictures 1979 film Gopaal Krishna in Hindi and the Telugu hit film Sampoorna Ramayan, however both films have long stretches of dialogue as well. But there are quite a few movie versions of Hindu mythological stories that are not only palatable for the little ones, but also enjoyable for the adults.
Here are two of my favorites:
Little Krishna Trilogy
This series, by Big Animation, is one of the most child-friendly versions of the Krishna story that I’ve found over the years. Everything from the bright colors to the soft, rounded looking characters works successfully to downplay the violence and scary factor of the villain Kamsa and the various demons that Krishna battles against, without changing the story or dumbing it down. Full episodes (both in Hindi and English) are available to check out on Big Animation’s YouTube channel.
Ramayana: The Legend of Prince Rama
This Japanese-style animated version of the Ramayana reminds me of the many dubbed international cartoons I watched as a child. Cute characters, lots of emotion and epic battles make this a big win with the little ones. A joint Indo-Japanese production, the English dub of this film is also known as “The Prince of Light”. The DVD is available on Amazon.com.
There’s a huge number of Hindu mythology children’s books out there, too many for any person to really give a comprehensive review of all of them. But I do find the ones that go back to again and again, and the ones I myself learned so many myths, tales and legends from, are the ever-popular Amar Chitra Katha comic books. I had a vast collection as a child and I still remember the pictures and dialogues from my favorites; Mirabai, Tales of Shiva and Parvati, Dashavataram and Shakuntala, just to name a few. Amar Chitra Kathas are fantastic because they go beyond just the religious tales and even share historical biographies (of Vivekananda, Tansen and Prithviraj Chauhan, for example) or moral stories (Panchatantra, Jataka Tales and Birbal Stories, to name a few). Though my son is a little young to follow a comic book format, I’m already stocking up on some of my favorite titles because I know in a few years he’ll devour them just as I did.
For the teen set, I highly recommend Ashok Banker’s Ramayana series as it tells the epic tale in the fantasy style of Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. Changing viewpoints and descriptions of magic powers as the result of years of ascetic study make the story accessible and realistic. They may also like Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s Palace of Illusions, a re-telling of the Mahabharat from the point of view of Draupadi, or Panchali. Divakaruni does a remarkable job of framing everything in a dramatically new angle. I particularly liked her imaginative creation of Panchali’s angst-filled relationship with Karna and how she makes the character of Krishna both warm and familiar as well as divine.
Nowadays there are a great many ways to access mythological stories using media that our kids are connected to on a daily basis. The use of Hindu mythology in video games and mobile app games is still relatively rare – some attempts to use it have been protested or labeled as offensive. Still there’s a world of opportunity out there and most games and apps connected to Hindu mythology are largely unreviewed.
I checked out a few of the games available for iOS, including Ramayan Wars: The Ocean Leap by Pixel Warriors Inc. ($1.99 on iTunes and Android) and Avatari: Divine v/s Demons by Shizam Enterprises (also $1.99). Ramayan Wars has fair graphics and a decent look (despite the more-than-slight Planet of the Apes appearance of Hanuman and his clan) and uses a combination of the Temple Run or Subway Surfers type gameplay and your more standard RPG action adventure stuff. The story aspect of it may lose the attention of the younger set but you can skip past it and get past the action. I enjoyed that they tried to infuse some more theoretical concepts by having parts of the story you can click on to get the core meaning or theme behind it, but it’s doubtful most kids would take advantage of that aspect. The gameplay controls weren’t the easiest, so younger kids would need a lot of assistance with this game. Avatari had an all Temple Run type gameplay, and the graphics look pretty neat. Unfortunately the app kept shutting down for me, so I can’t give it a fair review. The pictures look pretty fun though.
While the games are limited, there are a few different storytelling apps for kids. As a big fan of Amar Chitra Kathas as noted above, I was excited to find that a mobile version is available from developers iRemedi Corp. The apps allow for frame by frame mobile or iPad reading of some of my favorite childhood comic issues.
Krishna-Birth by Anjali Menrai, is a free app that has cute images and sounds for the younger set (although the first page of the story has a rather disturbing whipping sound effect). The pictures can all be tapped for various effects and you can record your voice telling the story for playback. Peacock Bookstore has a number of apps for different mythological and historical tales of India.
My favorite so far is Kabir Seth’s Valmiki’s Ramayana by App Ink Software ($1.99 on iTunes, I believe it is also available for Android). The animated images are cute and child-like, the story is pre-recorded with pretty music in the background.
The app market is constantly changing and evolving, and I have a feeling we will see a growing number of these types of apps in the future. I look forward to hearing in the comments if you’ve tried any of these, or if you recommend other movies, books or games for sharing mythological or faith-based stories and themes with children.
I also can only speak to the Hindu faith, but would be greatly interested in hearing about similar media tools for other faiths. There’s a great deal of cross-cultural learning to be gained from sharing these types of resources with each other and with our kids.
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