Sunday, March 26, 2017

Author of the Day: Saraswati Nagpal

One of the reading options in Indian Epics is Saraswati Nagpal's graphic novel entitled Sita: Daughter of the Earth, the first Indian graphic novel to be shortlisted for the Stan Lee Excelsior Award.

Nagpal has also written a graphic novel about the heroine of the Mahabharata, Draupadi: Fire-Born Princess.

Although these two graphic novels are written by the same author, they are illustrated by different artists, so that will give you a great opportunity to think about the contributions that the author and the illustrator both make to your experience of a graphic novel.

Saraswati Nagpal was born in 1980, and I have copied below a brief biography which I found at her Amazon Author page:
Since she can remember, Saraswati has been in love with words. As a child, she used to read books everywhere, anywhere and all the time. Her first published work, the graphic novel 'Sita, Daughter of the Earth' is the first Indian graphic novel to be shortlisted for the Stan Lee Excelsior Award (2012). She is working on more graphic novels for young adults, as well as on her first fantasy fiction novel. Saraswati is also an educator who believes in a fun classroom and joyful learning. All the children she teaches and meets inspire her to re-tell old stories and make up magical new ones.  Other than writing, she adores dancing, animals and the colour purple. She currently spends her time between mystical India and beautiful South Africa. In Hindu or Vedic lore, Saraswati is the serene goddess of speech, art and wisdom. Saraswati is very glad to be named after her.
This photograph is from The Serene Swan, a musical project by Saraswati and her brother, Sai Ganesh Nagpal.

Here is their performance of the Gayatri Mantra, and you might also enjoy this article that Nagpal wrote for The Atlantic magazine:  Princesses Can, in Fact, Be Role Models for Little Girls.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Author of the Day: Peter Brook

Peter Brook is the director of a beautiful film version of the Mahabharata which I hope some of you will want to watch this semester: Peter Brook's Mahabharata. We also have the script of the theatrical performance in book form if you want to read that!

The 1989 film is approximately 5 hours long, and it is based on a theatrical production that was even longer which Brook had staged in 1985 and which toured the world for four years. The cast is very international, with actors and actresses not just from India but from all Africa, Asia, and Europe. You can see a list of the cast in this Wikipedia article; one of the actors you might recognize is CiarĂ¡n Hinds as Ashwatthaman — he plays Mance Rayder in Game of Thrones. I first saw the film when it was broadcast on PBS in 1989, and it was my first introduction to the world of Indian epics; I've spent the last 25 years learning more!

Peter Brook, born in 1925, is best known for his work with the Royal Shakespeare Company in England. You can read more about his life and career at Wikipedia. Here is a photograph of Brook with the Mahabharata troupe:

Brook is now 92 years old and, inspired by the Syrian civil war, he has created a new play inspired by the Mahabharata: Battlefield. It is the story of Yudhishthira, victor and survivor of the war. What will he do now? You can listen to this NPR broadcast to learn more; here is the transcript:

A photograph of the production:

Shiva at CERN

I'm guessing you have heard about CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (more at Wikipedia). Did you know there is a statue of Shiva on the grounds there? You can read more about that in this article: In the Shadow of Shiva by Aidan Randle-Conde.. Here is an excerpt:
The Dancing Shiva represents the changes in the universe around us, as matter and energy constantly bump into each other, create and destroy systems and keep renewing the world. I suppose we can attach any meaning we like to this, the constant chatter of culture, the renewal of our population as people die and children and born, the violent cosmological events that keep reorganizing the universe. Any and all of these interpretations are beautiful, powerful and majestic, but for me there is one interpretation which excites me more than any other and holds a very deep truth in it. This cosmic dance is the interaction of matter and antimatter.

The statue was dedicated in 2004: Indian gift unveiled at CERN.

Here is another picture of the statue (Wikimedia):

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Interview with Kanishk Tharoor

Although this is not directly to the Indian epic tradition, I wanted to share this lovely interview that I heard on NPR this morning with the author Kanishk Tharoor on the occasion of his new book of short stories: Swimmer Among the Stars. I'm so excited to get a chance to read this book over Spring Break!

Here's a link to the interview, and I've embedded it here too:

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Author of the Day: Samhita Arni

As we get ready for the second half of the semester with totally free choices for the reading in Weeks 9-14, I want to highly recommend these three remarkable books by Samhita Arni: she has published a version of the Ramayana and also of the Mahabharata, and, just last year, she published a modern political thriller about the Ramayana called The Missing Queen.

I am sure you would very much enjoy any/all of these books. For those of you interested in modernization as a writing style, you really need to read The Missing Queen. Trust me: you really REALLY need to read this book!

You can find out more about Samhita Arni at her website: She is active at Twitter, where she shares links to her latest publications, like this lovely piece in the Bangalore Mirror: Can There Be Creativity Without Curiosity?

Here is information about her three books:


When she was just eight years old, Arni started writing and illustrating her own version of the Mahabharata which she finished and published in 1996 at the age of eleven. You will find the book — Mahabharatha: A Child's View — on Reserve in Bizzell for you to read (one or two or three weeks of reading). You can find out more by reading this 2005 interview. As you can see from the cover of the book, Arni's drawings are delightful, and her take on the epic sweep of the Mahabharata from a young person's perspective is really fascinating to read!


Arni second book is a version of the Ramayana as told by Sita herself, with illustrations by Moyna Chitrakar: Sita's Ramayana, published in 2011, and it spent two weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list for Graphic Novels. This book is also on Reserve in Bizzell Library, and you can use it as reading for one or two weeks. And for more about Arni's thoughts about Sita, see the next book option: The Missing Queen.


Her most recent book, published in 2014, is a modern political thriller that is, at the same time, a version of the Ramayana. Specifically, it is a retelling of the Ramayana set in Ayodhya during Rama's rule, after Sita has left the kingdom. Not to give away too much but, yes, Sita is the missing queen. Where has she gone? And why? One intrepid journalist is determined to find out!

Although I have marked The Missing Queen as being two weeks' worth of reading, my guess is that you might end up staying up late one night to finish it because you simply cannot put it down. That is what happened to me!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Wikipedia: Hindu Festivals to the Batu Caves

I'm having so much fun reading the Wikipedia Trails that people do for class that I've decided to start doing Wikipedia Trails of my own!

Today, I'm starting with the List of Hindu festivals. This is nowhere near a complete list, but it contains a good list to start from with a summary of each festival and an image, like this image of a Murugan from the festival of Thaipusam.

So from there of course I went to the article about Thaipusam, a Tamil festival that celebrates the weapon that Parvati gave to her son Murugan so that he could defeat Soorapadman, a wicked asura. This image shows a Thaipusam festival in Singapore:

That made me curious about the weapon, Vel, which is a spear-like weapon, and it is especially associated with the worship of Murugan (Kartikeya). This is a statue of Murugan in Malaysia holding a vel:

That statue is at the Batu Caves in Malaysia, so that is where I went next. A nineteenth-century Indian trader thought the cave entrance looked like a vel (!), so he decided to create a shrine dedicated to Murugan. Here is the cave interior; it looks amazing!

Diigo: Mahabharata Graphic Novels on Reserve in Bizzell

These are the graphic novels about the Mahabharata on Reserve in Bizzell:

Click refresh to see another comic book at random;
click on the title to learn more.