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Looking for a Ramayan prodigy

The search is on for an Indian idol in America, writes Meeta Chaitanya.

india Updated: Mar 08, 2006 17:19 IST

The search is on for an Indian idol in America. But unlike singing sensations and theatrical amusement, this is a different kind of odyssey, a different kind of treasure hunt.

Balagokulam, a flagship Children's magazine of HSS- USA (a not for profit organisation for preserving and promoting Hindu culture among Hindus in North America) is organising across the states for the very first time in USA the Kaun Banega Ramayan Expert contest for children.

This quiz contest, based on the ancient Indian epic that has inspired generations of mystics and philosophers alike will be harboured in the text as also the context of the Ramayan.

The contest and the well-oiled machinery behind it are meant to be a positive thrust towards trying to teach Hindu culture to young children in a fun way. Children who enter the contest will, for instance, receive access to a Ramayan website especially crafted with rich and comprehensive study material and practice quizzes.

Study material on the website is presented in a catchy capsule format such as; Charitra Ramayan ( for children between 10-15 years of age) that describes the role of the epic protagonists as Lord Ram, Lord Hanuman, Bharat, Lakshman, Angad among many others. Similarly the Katharoop Ramayan showcases the Ramayan as short story to simplify the understanding of the text.

The contest is for children of various age groups. The contest is open to anybody between the ages of 5 to 15. Children are being enrolled in different categories (there are 4 groups based on age) and in their journey towards rediscovering the epic; they will be awarded various prizes and certificates of recognition. The bigger awards for the winners amount to a cumulative of a whopping $10,000. All eligible participants however will win certificates and mementos acknowledging their participation.

The registration fee for the contest is $11.00 per child and if they choose to buy the KBRE game kit ($15 and comprising an interactive CD, flash cards etc) they get a $5 discount instantly. Online registration however does give children 3 chances to take the online qualifying exam.

The competition began on the auspicious Indian New Year day of Makar Sankranti, the 14th of Jan in Denver, CO and the format of the contest entailed an online examination for participating tots beginning on that very day through March 31st.

Contestants are being asked to register online first and qualify to enter the final quiz programme. This will then culminate in the 'In-person contest' in April where hundreds of Balagokulam centres across the United States will be conducting the phase II. The winners will receive their awards finally in May 2006.

Most parents are excited about the contest, which is seen as an extended manifestation of the popular Balagokulam Magazine, a magazine for children with subscription rates as reasonable as $11 for a year. The magazine, which has interesting regular features as - Speak Samskritam, Vedic Math, Science Facts, Crossword, Your Poems & Artwork- has by itself come a long way in igniting the nascent imagination of kids.

Instead of didactic lectures and a forceful rote-routine, contests such as these, where children themselves are accorded the primary prerogative to learn and exhibit their knowledge successfully, are being hailed by NRIs as a laudable step in the direction towards holistic education and value building. Similarly, this initiative could be a hallmark beginning of innovative learning for kids with emphasis not just on religion but on other significant spheres of education.

Only, while Hindu values without a doubt are acknowledged for their innate inspirational and devotional synthesis that goes a long way towards wholesome development, one of the primary tenets of the religion is its embracing of world cultures and values.

Its innate inclusiveness would perhaps have found even better expression had the contest been open to a child, any child instead of just Hindu children. For the Ramayan may be a Hindu epic in form, it is universal in essence. So also, one hopes, would be the Ramayan expert.

First Published: Mar 08, 2006 17:19 IST