THROUGHOUT HISTORY HINDUISM’S wealth of literature, including scriptures, poems and epics, has been passed from generation to generation. Originally transmitted by word of mouth through story, song and play, this cultural and religious wealth was eventually scribed in the written word. Over the centuries stories such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata have taken many forms, in recent times on TV shows and in comic books. But can these forms of communication cut through the plethora of digital entertainment, education and distraction that fill the lives of today’s youth? One company feels they have a 21st century option.
HINDUISM TODAY recently sat down with Naryanan Vaidyanathan, Director and CEO of Gamaya Inc. in San Jose, California. He and his team have developed (and are continuing to build on) Gamaya Legends, a game for mobile devices with the goal of presenting youth an engaging and visually rich presentation of the Ramayana and its characters. It also features physical toys which can interface with the game.
“As a kid, I used to enjoy visits to my grandma’s house during summer vacations. She would tell us stories from Indian mythology and folklore in great detail and with powerful dictation, painting great images in my mind that have always stayed with me. When I had a daughter, I wanted her to have the same experiences and know all about these great stories and characters. So I first bought some Amar Chitra Katha comics that I had read as a kid. These comics were great for me, so I thought they would get her interested, but the language and artwork was from my time and didn’t resonate with her. As I told her these stories every night, I thought about how kids these days need a more enriching experience. They are used to high-quality presentations like The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, and unless we can meet them at that level, these epics will fade away from their memories.
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“So I set out to recreate these epics in a language kids today will understand. Our core audience is children from 7 to 14 years old, and for them we had to create something highly interactive and engaging. That’s how Gamaya got started. The word gamaya is from the phrase asatoma sat gamaya, meaning “from ignorance lead me to truth.” It’s also a nice combination of game and maya (illusion).
“By basing the product on the Ramayana, we hope to provide a window into this epic. We can’t cover all aspects of it, of course—it’s just too big. But the game lets kids play in the Ramayana universe. It gives them an introduction to the characters and their stories. We expect this to inspire dinner-time conversations where kids can learn more from their parents.
“Gamaya Legends is an action game. We are not hiding that. The Ramayana involves the classic hero’s journey—overcoming impossible challenges, forming great alliances and fighting evil. Gamaya Legends is no different. We do avoid blood and gore and stick to fantasy/cartoon violence, and we don’t go looking for reasons to add action elements.
“While playing the game, kids save legendary scrolls of the Ramayana from being destroyed. These scrolls have illustrations and voice-over of the original Ramayana story. This way they get an introduction to the story through the game. We have also created an animated cartoon series that focuses on the characters from the Ramayana (bit.ly/gamayalegends). This lets us go into greater detail with the characters and main story. At the end of it all, if the kids who engage with our products get inspired to know more about the epic, then our original goal is reached!
“Some of the customer feedback we’ve received has been very encouraging. To quote a few: ‛This is a great game. I bought it for my 7-year-old son and he thoroughly enjoys it. This is a very nice way to introduce kids to such stories. Since the time my son has started playing this game, we have had several conversations about different stories at the dinner table and in the car.’ Another parent said, ‛My 6-year-old son knew the story of Ramayana, and now he is super excited to experience the characters coming to life. I cannot express my joy when he says that Rama and Hanuman are his superheroes.’”