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Ramayan Again: Nostalgia or History Repeating Itself ?

 

Ramayan-3

Om Prakash Das

It is the dominant political message which works through the dominant images and it is pushed by a streak of aspirations of the great mass. Now, we need to understand the relation between future aspirations and so called ‘golden past’. In India ‘golden past’ describes a tradition of ruling classes’ hegemony

One can say that it is an incarnation of ‘Ramayan’ in the age of multi television channel, ‘over the top’ web series, YouTube and many more entertainment audio-visual platforms. Since its first telecast ‘Ramayan’ (from January 1987 to August 1989) has been discussed and analyzed in the perspective of social-political and characteristics of mass media & communication. Today again, people received ‘Ramayan’ with great enthusiasm and it is surprising for many. Now, the question is whether it is due to nostalgia or is history repeating itself?

Second half of the 1980’s decade was the time of political polarization, it was the time when Ram-Janambhomi movement had started getting momentum and after the controversial law passed by the parliament of India for overruling the decision of apex court about a muslim lady Shah Bano (1985). Law was against the right of maintenance amount for divorcee Shah Bano, which was denied by her husband. It was the time, when economic liberalization was trying to make more space in the government policies and market. In that bustling time, the state broadcaster decided to telecast the epic Ramayan and it was very deliberate. Arvind Rajgopal* describes this step as an attempt of projection of a state-sponsored national culture in a ‘‘secular’’ society, where there were limits to the over emphasis on religion.

As we have seen, it was not an isolated issue, this epic serial pushed many social-cultural-political issues, but at the same time mass media shows its new phenomenon in India. It was the television, which reshaped and consolidated the social function of communication and representation and all this happened through a quicker, more efficient network of signs and visual messages. Television creates a visual regime, which can not be isolated from the context of media’s political convictions and endorsement.* There are two huge concepts one is visual regime and the other is media’s political convictions and endorsement. Visual regime emerges from the cultural and historical conditions but this regime is not static, it makes many transitions or evolutions. Now, we need to understand whether these transitions are engendered by some force or it follows the societal conditions, which (society) is ultimately convinced by dominant political message.

Another point of contention is direct impact of hegemonic political message on the elements of visual regime. Hegemonic political message disrupt established cultural form or build a new cultural form, in other words it may work as a catalyst in the awakening of lost cultural identities. Visual regime cannot be isolated or left untouched by this transition of cultural form and furthermore emergences of new cultural identities. Arvind Rajgopal makes a strong deliberation here about the illuminating of the power of a given cultural form, which actually comes as a byproduct of ‘a series of contingent events.’*

The success of Ramayan was the success of an age old brahmanical ritualistic hegemony, which asks for incarnation at the time of crises. In that sense, Ramayan brought or restored already existed symbols and signs, which were related to the manifestation of victory and domination. Social system of a given society develops its cultural identity in a broader sense but there is always a dominant cultural identity in society.*

In a democratic-pluralistic society, evolution of image belongs to both identity and sociology, it thus, makes a balance at the time of representation. But this balance is not for forever. If an image evolves from a social system, then what would happen when this system is manipulated by some dominant identity or force? Arvind Rajgopal talk about the reliability of “the commonsense of social causation” * in the context of retaining of old aura and reliable memory. This fault line of old aura and commonsense are may create a space for dominant message. Now the question arises as to who represents this dominant message. ‘Who represents this dominant message’? This is the question; we need to ask even today.

In a televised or audio-visual narrative, it went through a process of reconstruction of narrative and the output of that reconstruction projects a delusion between past and future. It gives a different understanding of time and space for the audience. It is pretty much clear that altered depth and texture of the time and history make a thin understanding of time

A continues dominant messaging creates a ‘passive revolution’, which is a non-confrontational approach to change required of a ruling class. Antonio Gramsci coined this term ‘passive revolution’ in the context of “a continuum with the broader process of social and political change”. * It is the dominant political message which works through the dominant images and it is pushed by a streak of aspirations of the great mass. Now, we need to understand the relation between future aspirations and so called ‘golden past’. In India ‘golden past’ describes a tradition of ruling classes’ hegemony.

We know the story of Ramayn, but it is a visual treat with a narrative of ‘golden past’ and religion. Visual regime of television makes a wide sense of history through images. It is the image/visual which crosses different time-spaces in a single narrative.*   In a televised or audio-visual narrative, it went through a process of reconstruction of narrative and the output of that reconstruction projects a delusion between past and future. It gives a different understanding of time and space for the audience. It is pretty much clear that altered depth and texture of the time and history make a thin understanding of time.*

Today, we are again in the midst of crises (Covid-19), which would eventually lead to an economic crisis, we are again in the midst of a situation of social/religious polarization with the patronage of mainstream television news channels and we are again in the midst of a technological transformation (television to digital)…as it was at the time of the first broadcast of Ramayan.

* All the reference is from the book Politics after Television, written by, Arvind Rajgopal, Published from Cambridge University Press, New York (2004)

The author of the article Om Prakash Das is a senior media professional of over two decades’ experience in television journalism. At present, anchor at Doordarshan. He is an alumni of Indian Institute of Mass Communication

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