It's a return to the ancient tradition of telling the great Indian epics, but with a new-age digital twist.
Chennai-based writer, poet, blogger and storyteller, G. Kameshwar, has come out with a series of podcasts on the Mahabharata, based on Vyasa's 100,000 Sanskrit verses, with Kameshwar's own English explanations.
“Now, you can put these MP3 files on your iPod or listen to them in the car while you're driving,” he says. “Narrating the Mahabharata orally is traditional — it's nothing new. But the technology makes it accessible to a whole new generation.”
The podcasts, available on the website of the Charsur Arts Foundation, are recordings of the Mahabharata storytelling sessions Kameshwar has been conducting week after week for the last eight years. “There are over 300 hours of recordings — one hour a week, 40 weeks a year, since 2002,” he says with a smile. “I didn't know for how long the sessions would last in the beginning, but it kept going and people are still coming back after eight years!”
His office at home is filled with various scholarly works — published and unpublished, ancient and contemporary — on the Mahabharata that he's researched over the years, and piles of diaries in which he takes notes before each storytelling session. “I take about six hours to prepare for each, with about 40 pages of notes,” says Kameshwar, a software architect with Tata Consultancy Services, and a published travel writer and poet. “I follow the original Mahabharata verses in detail, even capturing the metaphors and similes used by Vyasa — you can actually see the war through the word-pictures he paints.”
The first eight episodes currently available for download (Rs. 95 an episode) on the website chronicle the start of the Great War, until the fall of Bheeshma. “I decided to begin with the war because that's what the Mahabharata is essentially about; you have every character out on the battlefield, and there is so much drama, from the highest philosophy to the lowest treachery,” he says.
Proceeds from these sales go, as with all Kameshwar's creative endeavours, towards Rasa, the charity for children with special needs founded by his wife Ambika Kameshwar. For some years now, CDs of his storytelling sessions have been given to donors at Rasa, and it was through one of them that the idea for these podcasts came about.
“My friend in the U.S. received a CD, and his wife Usha Shankar and his 13-year-old son got hooked on it — his son, in fact, goes to bed every night listening to it,” he says. “Usha was very keen that I should get it all online to reach more people, and being more enterprising than I, she contacted Charsur.”
So it came to be that the ancient epic has taken a new digital avatar as a podcast. And this might be just the beginning. “If all goes well, we'll be uploading more episodes — the war alone has 40 more!” says Kameshwar, adding with a smile. “And then I'm thinking of tackling another epic — maybe the Valmiki Ramayana.”
Find the podcasts at http://www.charsur.com
Read more about G. Kameshwar's work at http://gkamesh.wordpress.com/