GURUGRAM, India (AP) – By staying at home locked in while waiting for the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, millions of Indians are turning to their gods. Not in the prayer rooms, but on TV.
Seeking comfort in the certainty of the past, Indians are devouring reruns of popular Hindu religious dramas. They are based on shared experiences from Indian mythology, full of stories of moral and ethical choices in times of crisis and invoke the virtues of individual sacrifice for social good.
The country's public broadcaster revived epic television shows like "Ramayan" and "Shri Krishna" – both highly revered mythological tales – and relayed them in prime time every day.
"Shri Krishna", a TV series originally broadcast in 1993, is an adaptation of the life of one of Hinduism's most popular gods.
In "Ramayan", a popular 1980s series, filmmaker Ramanand Sagar tells the story of Lord Ram, the prince of Ayodhya, who was exiled for 14 years and rescued his kidnapped wife Sita from the demon Ravan.
“When the program was first broadcast, the streets were completely deserted and everyone watched with devotion. The stories about the victory of good over evil were very engaging, ”said Vijay Kumar Jain, a doctor and gastroenterologist who practices in New Delhi and an avid fan of dramas.
On April 16, the program had a record 77 million viewers, tweeted Indian public broadcaster Prasar Bharati.
"In this era of crisp, generation Z content, these numbers clearly indicate that there is still a demand for values and ethos-oriented content in the world's largest democracy," said Prasar Bharti in a press release.
Meanwhile, on the streets, an epic but tragic drama of a different kind is unfolding.
Millions of poor, hungry and desperate migrant workers are moving from cities to their villages after the blockade took their jobs and left them to defend themselves.
As the number of COVID-19 cases in India exceeds 100,000, the economy begins to reopen with some restrictions. But anxiety about what lies ahead is increasing.
"Showing majority mythologies when a diverse country faces a human crisis of unparalleled scale can create an illusion of well-being," wrote filmmaker Dibakar Banerjee in the Indian express newspaper.
"In the midst of a pandemic that levels everyone, the chosen and the oppressed, many of us fantasize about returning to a simple, golden past," he wrote.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi often invokes Hindu scriptures in his speeches during the blockade, asking people to do their duty and follow the rules of social detachment to win the battle against COVID-19.
“There is no greater force than our enthusiasm and conviction. There is nothing we cannot achieve, ”he said in his national speech on April 3, drawing inspiration from a verse from the Hindu epic Ramayan.
A court verdict last year paved the way for the construction of a large Ram temple in a location in northern India, where Hindu ceilings demolished a 16th-century mosque in 1992, causing deadly religious riots.
But faith transcends the politics of strident Hindu nationalism, and millions of moderate practicing Hindus keep idols of Ram in their homes for daily prayer.
“In today's uncertain times, people are trying to understand their lives – who am I, what is my place in the universe. And mythology offers us truth and wisdom, ”said Jain.
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