Indian Festivals & Stories – How to Introduce Mythology to Children

Look around you…Oh so many magical resources to make Diwali so special. I hope you are enjoying the Diwali Dhamaka Blog Hop!

And why not? Diwali is the mega-festival of the country when there is bountiful cheer and happiness. We prep our homes, by scrubbing them clean, renovating and up-scaling the decor, light diyas, prepare gourmet sweets and spread the joy of the festival with friends and families.

With a 3 year old toddler at home who is always bursting with questions, my role as a parent is to bring in experiences that answer his questions thoughtfully. What is Diwali? Why do we celebrate it? And why do we celebrate it the way we do? To a 3 year old this may seem like a barrage of thoughts but as a parent and a storyteller, I look at it as a gateway into the magical world of Indian mythology.

 Is 3 then the threshold into Indian mythology? I’d say no! I had a 2 years old listening to Ramayana and liking Surpanakha the best! 🙂

Mythology is a tricky genre. Especially Indian actually. There are too many Gods and Goddess, too much violence and anger and definitely a lot of bloodshed. Let’s not get into lust, envy, debauchery, treachery and revenge. The first time I ever touched mythology was during a telling of Krishna and other mythological stories during Holi. With the youngest in the audience being 2.5 years, the real challenge was to glean out the cruel acts of King Harinyakashipu and his intentions behind killing his own son! Sacrilege!! A father killing his own son? Unfortunately these are the tales that make up Indian mythology. So do we not tell them to young children? I’d say why not? What matters is the telling – what you tell them and how you tell them.  

For most of us our childhood was marked by Ramanand’s Sagar epical Ramayana on television. How can we forget those days? Huddling before the television to watch our Sunday dose of Ramayana and then curling up before my grandmother to understand what we all saw. Making sense of television was also an important element of storytelling! Now of course children gather so much from television that it is a little futile sometimes to de-construct visual stories. 

 

Indian Mythology for Children

Indian Mythology for Children

 

The story of Ram ends with Diwali and so any telling of the Diwali story has to begin right from the start. My tryst with Ramayana began ahead of Dussehra as I told the Ramayana for the first time. With an enthusiastic bunch of kids some who knew the epic very well, others who were getting a taste of it for the first time, the challenge was to make it fun and engaging for the kids. So really, how can we retell Ramayana to children minus the gore, violence and the tyranny of a step mother? How can we really make Ram more alluring to children than the fantastical Ravana with ten heads? Who is the hero, who the villain? Do we really want to make the distinctions for children? What to keep and what to eliminate in the telling of an epic poem? 

Ramayana Collage

The Ramayan Star Cast

 

If you haven’t tried telling the Ramayana, then a good starting point would be now. And this is how I did it.

Filter & Structure

Ramayana is a poem that runs into 24,000 verses none of which our generation knows. It’s a mega story with several characters, many inter-connected events and innumerable lessons. So pick what suits you and your child. Pick the elements that string the story in a beautiful chain of events that make sense for the child. The key in the entire exercise is to enjoy the story, because that’s what makes any story memorable.

I built a structure of Ramayana around events in the story that are enough for a child to make sense of it. The story begins with Dasharath, his three wives and four sons. Of how Dashrath chooses Ram to be King and how Kaikeyi wanted Bharat to be King instead. So Ram is sent off to vanavasa with Lakshman and Sita in tow. The forest is a dangerous place where there are many demons and demoness. Surpanakha is one such demoness. When Lakshman cuts Surpanakha’s nose she runs back to Ravana. Ravana gets very angry and decides to punish Ram and Lakshman. So he abducts Sita and takes her to Lanka. Jatayu the magnificent tries to save Sita but Ravana clips his wings. Ram and Lakshman on their way to finding Ravana reach Kishkinda, the land of monkeys. There they meet Hanuman who becomes a loyal friend to Ram. Hanuman flies to Lanka and finds Sita. He decides to give Ravana’s demons a tough time so he burns down Lanka. Ram and Lakshman reach Lanka with a band of monkeys. A fight ensues and Ravana is defeated. Ram, Sita, Lakshman fly back to Ayodhya with Hanuman, their personal carrier.

This basic structure, filled with dialogues, songs and descriptions is a compelling telling. You may want to tell the whole thing at one go or make it episodic.

Tweak the Elements

Kaikeyi is the archetypal ‘step mother’ who we have grown to fear and dislike. Given modern day families and their structures, I feel it is better to distil the concept of the ‘evil’ step mother. So yes, no Cinderalla! Why feed on stereotypes? So deflect Kaikeyi’s story to say that she wanted Bharat to be King! Simple enough with no controversies.

Scholars believe that there’d be no Ramayana if it wasn’t for Kaikeyi and Surpanakha. So a lot rests on the two women who become catalysts for the story. In truth Surpanakha wanted to kill Sita so that she could take her place. Lakshman stopped her and struck off her nose. I prefer the scissor / pinch motif to talk about Surpanakha’s nose.

Be careful of how you mention elements like the cutting of the nose, killing of demons and Ravana. Instead, say ‘pinching’ of the nose, or a funny fight dance with the demons. We cannot eliminate violence, but we surely can cushion the impact on little minds.

Identify Emotions

Emotions connect us to stories. We remember stories because we remember the way we feel about them. In all the stories I tell, I like to bring out the emotions that a story has. So illustrate the emotions of loyalty, sibling affection, bravery, courage, awe, joy and happiness. Filter the negative emotions of disgust, hurt, envy and revenge.

Revenge is a very strong emotion that children may feel vulnerable to. How we present it is important. I chose to explain it by explaining the relationship between siblings where the older one looks out for the younger one. If the younger one is bullied then doesn’t not the older one go and sort it out?

Make it Fun

What good is a story, if it isn’t fun? So make up a song, hum a ditty, jump, prance and make up a fight dance. Give Surpanakha a funny face that is meant to scare but adds tickles their bones instead. Give her a voice that makes your little audience giggle and guffaw out laugh!

Hanuman’s Lanka escapades are a brilliant moment to improvise with your child and make him / her enact all monkey antics! So go ahead and have some fun. Explain the concept of a Vaanar Sena and enjoy monkeying around!

I composed two songs for the story, something that became a great hit:

Chale Chale Chale Chale Ramji Vanvas,

Ramji Vanvas,

Sita aur Lakshman Chale Unke Saath,

Unke Saath

Or

Hanumanji Udd Ke Chale, Udd Chale Lanka,

Apni Poonch Pe Aag Lagai Bhasm Kiya Lanka,

Hanuman Ki Jai,

Jai Jai Bajrang Bali Ki Jai

Use everything that you have in you to recreate a character. So give your characters a voice, walk and personality. I used several props in the story that became a source of wonder for my little audience, but then as a parent you may find it a cumbersome exercise. So go with your natural instincts and spend as much time as you want on a character or moment.

Please Don’t Preach

Ravan is the more colourful character in Ramayana. Look at it from a child’s point of view and you will see what I mean. A man with 10 heads? What a fantastic image! So it is natural for kids to be excited by Ravan. So let them be!

Some things are left for children to understand. They don’t need to be told that Ram is the hero and Ravan the villain in the story. Let them decide the course of the story. Give them a story that they can make sense of. Give them a story where they decide who they like. Let them enjoy a story for the spectacle and joy of listening, instead of driving home lessons.

Ram’s homecoming and the celebration of Diwali is a wonderful moment to share Ramayana. It is not about religiosity, it is about the joy of a story that a child will encounter twice a year! From Dussehra to Diwali, Ram’s story remains a seasonal favourite.

Rashmi in her blog did a wonderful review of Amma, Tell Me About Diwali.

If you want to go the book reading way, I would like to add two accompaniments.

The first, a prequel to Bhakti Mathur’s Diwali book, Amma, Tell Me About Ramayana has a few more elements of Ram’s story. But if you have the Diwali book, then you can skip this one.

 Diwali is also a good time to talk about Lord Ganesha and Goddess Lakshmi and why we pray to them. While Bhakti Mathur’s Diwali book covers a small story of how Goddess Lakshmi favours those who do their duty, I have another delightful read for anyone who is interested in some Ganesha stories. Emily Haynes’ Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth is a delightful take on how Ganesha broke his tooth and then went on to write the Mahabharata. The quirky, colourful and intelligent illustrations by Sanjay Patel will  stay with any child and adult. Besides this book becomes the perfect stepping stone to introduce Mahabharata to your child.

The Mahabharata did I say? Well…that’s another story 😀

Come join a set of fabulous bloggers sharing their Diwali moments , easy Crafts, DIY ideas, Recipes and book recommendations with you .

Starting from today till Diwali and beyond, each one of us will be writing a post related to Diwali.
Participating blogs

So sit back, relax and check out all the fabulous Diwali Dhamaka posts from our participating blogs in the linky.



Link up your Diwali posts here


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5 thoughts on “Indian Festivals & Stories – How to Introduce Mythology to Children

  1. You have a wonderful place here Rituparna. So glad I dropped by. My twins are eight so we’re a little past this stage. But the kids knew Ramayana since they were about 2.5. And I instinctively did what you’ve outlined so beautifully here. My son was a huge Ravana fan. In fact I remember worrying myself sick why he liked only the bad guys. Now they’re onto the Mahabharata which is an even more difficult tale to tell. We watched it together on the telly recently so that made things a bit easier but I’m still struggling with the grey characters.

    • Just chill and don’t obsess 😀 Whether you read or watch stories (even mythology) discuss what you read and watch together. Adapt to dialogic reading techniques and discuss the story through questions. Let your kids come up with their own answers here. Help them reason and use their rationale to truly understand the characters. Karma must be such a difficult character to explain….right and wrong at the same time. All the best.

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