INTERVIEW Storyteller Craig Jenkins says the stories in The Ramayana and The Mahabharata are metaphors and allow us to raise questions
It is not just Craig Jenkins’ knowledge of The Ramayana and The Mahabharata that will leave you impressed. His attempts at re-working the stories in these epics to address contemporary issues will make you marvel at his ability to get to the heart of the timeless stories. Craig is a well-known storyteller, and has engaged children and adults alike in the U.K. and India with his unique storytelling techniques.
Craig was introduced to The Ramayana and The Mahabharata while he was a student of Drama and Film Studies at the University of Kent, where he had attended a storytelling session by Vayu Naidu.
“The first story I watched Vayu narrate was The Monkey, The Crocodile And The Rose-Apple Tree . The second story was of The Ramayana. I found the stories very interesting because they were so different.” In 2007, Vayu asked Craig to train with her. He later became an artistic associate and an international ambassador of the Vayu Naidu Company, U.K.
Craig’s interest in the epics led him to study and explore them further. “I read up about them, watched television series, spoke to different people. It took over my life, really. I don’t think I’ll ever know the stories fully. And I’d want it to be that way. It’s like swimming in an ocean and the more I move with the waves, the more I re-discover something else.” During his stint as artist in residency at Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam in Tamil Nadu, Craig discovered that the questions the stories of The Ramayana and The Mahabharata raise are relevant to contemporary society. “Draupadi’s disrobing, for example, is violence against women. The story of Karna looks at abandoned children being given away,” says Craig.
His recent work Project Abhimanyu: The Child Soldier has been performed by young people from South London. Craig re-worked Abhimanyu’s story to depict the phenomenon of child soldiers. “The performers hadn’t heard of Abhimanyu’s story before, but when they did, they fell in love with it.” Craig has received moving responses from children about the epics, particularly those who know nothing about the epics. A girl told Craig how much she admired Draupadi because she stood up for herself.
“She told me Western princesses aren’t so brave, all they do is wait to be rescued in palaces and castles.”
Craig says what makes the epics interesting is that they are holistic depictions of life.
“They show us there is light and dark in all of us. And they are an interface between a story and reality because every one of these stories allows us to question. When Jambavan tells Hanuman about his childhood, Hanuman discovers the power within. This story is a metaphor for those times in life when we don’t know what we are capable of, but it takes one moment to make us realise that we can do it.”
The questions the stories of epics raise are apparent in contemporary society