Sanskrit Stories You Should Know

Sanskrit is one of the oldest Indian languages, equivalent to what Latin is to Europe. The earliest writings in Sanskrit were the Vedas. Composed between 2000 BCE and 500 BCE, they form the basis of Hindu philosophy. Both the great Indian epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana were written in Sanskrit between 1200 BCE and 200 BCE. These epics have inspired innumerable literary works through the centuries and up to present times.  Here are some classic Sanskrit literary works that everyone should know.

Illustration: Sundara Moorthy

The text for this classic work of the enigmatic writer, Bhasa, was long considered lost, until it was discovered in Kerala in 1912.

Udayana, the king of Vatsa, falls deeply in love with Vasavadatta, the princess of Avanti, eloping together, and returning to his capital, Kaushambi. Post the wedding, Udayana becomes so besotted with his new wife that he starts neglecting his royal duties, causing the kingdom to suffer. In addition, a hostile enemy seems poised to attack Kaushambi.

Udayana’s loyal minister, Yaugandharayana, decides that Udayana needs to form an alliance with a strong neighbour, but for that, he would have to marry the princess of that kingdom. Knowing how much Udayana loves his queen, and desperate for a solution, Yaugandharayana takes Vasavadatta into his confidence and comes up with a plan. But for the plan to work, Vasavadatta needs to die!

The real Udayana was a historical king of Vatsa, near today’s Allahabad, and a contemporary of Buddha. His capital was, like the story suggests, at Kaushambi. His character appears in a lot of the literature of the time, as does that of his wife, Vasavadatta. There is a huge collection of stories called the Kathasaritsagara, which contains accounts of Udayana’s military exploits.

Illustration: Sundara Moorthy

The plays Ratnavali and Nagananda were written by Emperor Harsha, who ruled a vast kingdom in 7th century CE, spanning most of present-day North, West and Eastern India He was not only a great warrior but also a gifted poet and playwright.

In Ratnavali, Harsha takes a stab at retelling Bhasa’s tale. Ratnavali is the story of the romance between King Udayana of Kaushambi and the eponymous princess. Udayana is married to Queen Vasavadatta, and the play contains an elaborate plot to convince her to agree to his marriage to her cousin, Ratnavali. Udayana is the protagonist in another of Harsha’s plays called, Priyadarshika. This time, the subject is the marriage of Udayana to a princess named Priyadarshika.

Harsha’s Nagananda tells the story of Prince Jimutavahana, a Bodhisattva, or a previous incarnation of Buddha. The story is taken from the Jataka tales but features Hindu gods like Gowri, Shiva’s consort, and Garuda, Vishnu’s mount. The play combines not just the mythologies of Buddhism and Hinduism but also the philosophies, as is evident in events such as when the newly-married prince, Jimutavahana, decides to give up his own life to save that of a Naga, thinking it is the right thing to do.

Illustration: Sundara Moorthy

Vasantasena is a retelling of the play Mrichhakatika, meaning ‘The Little Clay Cart’ by Shudraka. Little is known about Shudraka, except that he is thought to have been a king.

The Vasantasena in this story is not the same as Udayana’s queen from the earlier entries in this list. Here, Vasantasena is a dancer in the court of King Palaka of Ujjaini, who falls in love with the poor but noble Charudatta. Unfortunately, for her, Samasthana, the king’s powerful and evil brother-in-law., also has an eye on her, and isn’t too happy about her affair with Charudatta. Eventually, there is an attempt on Vasantasena’s life, with the blame being thrown on the innocent Charudatta, who is declared guilty and set to be executed. Thankfully for him, at the very last minute, Vasantasena re-emerges, saving his life, and exposing Samasthana’s wickedness to the world at large.

Read more stories from ancient Indian literature in Amar Chitra Katha’s ‘Great Indian Classics’ now available on the ACK Comics app, as well as Amazon, Flipkart, and other major e-tailers. 

Writer Write-Up: Bijal Vachharajani

Bijal Vachharajani is an esteemed author, journalist, and editor, who has dedicated most of her life to raising awareness about climate change and environmental issues through the written word. Some of her best-sellers include So You Want to Know About the Environment, What’s Neema Eating Today? and The Seed Savers. She completed her masters in Environment Security and Peace at the UN-mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica. Bijal has a day job where she serves as Editor Scissorhands with prominent children’s publishers, Pratham Books.

“Children’s books take us to a safe and wonderful place. We all return to kid’s literature for comfort and joy. I cannot believe that people pay me to read kids’ books. It’s a dream job.” 

When quizzed about the editing process, she said that she is blessed to have a wonderful team that gels very well together. No manuscript is passed without the consent of all the team members. The final question they all have to answer after reading a manuscript is, ‘Did we enjoy the book and get lost in it?’ Only if the answer is a unanimous ‘yes’ do they proceed! When asked about the design process behind picture books for younger readers and the balance between art and words, she said that there is no fixed formula.

“A lot of discussion goes into it. We look at the age group and the kind of emotion each page can evoke in the kids. Knowledge of design rules definitely helps but it is a constant juggle.” 

Her latest title, A Cloud Called Bhura, deals with the crucial subject of climate change, and has been very well received by readers. So how was Bhura born? “Bhura came to me when I was studying at the University of Costa Rica. We learnt that there were brown clouds being formed in the southern part of the world. Reports suggested that this would impact monsoon patterns, human health, and more. However, government bodies are yet to take this seriously. I started wondering, ‘What if Bhura was a tangible body hovering above Mumbai? How would everybody react to it?’ Thus, Bhura was born!”

Watch the video to learn more about Bijal and her journey so far, and listen to her read from the book as well!

#ACKandFriends is a weekly live show by our Amar Chitra Katha editorial team, where we connect with India’s top children’s authors and give audiences a sneak peek into the creative process behind writing books for kids. The show airs every Friday at 5:00 pm on our Facebook and Youtube channels.

Writer Write-Up: Harshikaa Udasi

Harshikaa Udasi completed her masters in Economics before turning to journalism. After spending nearly two decades reporting the news, she followed her passion for writing stories. 

She traces her love for writing stories to when she was 15 years old. That’s when she first attempted to write her first novel. Unfortunately, she stopped writing after the first two pages,  but the thought of having an unfinished book made her come back to it 25 years later. When Duckbill Books announced the Children First writing contest, she finally penned down her first book and submitted it, winning first prize! Kittu’s Very Mad Day was born, and since then, there has been no turning back. The book was very well received by the audience, going on to win the 2018 FICCI Publishing Award for Best English Children’s Book.

When we asked her about the inspiration behind the differently-abled Kittu who is the protagonist of the book, she had a lovely story to share. 

“My friend had been blessed with a baby girl who did not have the gift of sight. I was deeply saddened and couldn’t help but sympathize with her. ‘Why does God have to be so unfair?’ I thought. I avoided meeting her, wondering what I would talk to her about. Years later, when I met the child, I found her to be one of the most cheerful and lively kids I had ever come across. That made me realize that one need not pity the differently-abled.” 

Harshikaa also runs the Book Trotters Club, a unique book club for kids with the aim of building the habit of reading. The club hosts various events for kids such as read-alongs, speech and drama programmes, creative writing and film appreciation, and much more. Additionally, she also leads a reading programme in Akshara High School, Mumbai. She loves spending time with kids and narrating stories to them. It was only after becoming a mother that she realized how differently parents and children see the world around them, something she has touched upon in her recent release, Friends Behind Walls

The book is set against the beautiful backdrop of quaint Deolali in Nashik. The plot and the characters are all inspired by real-life incidents, with an extra dash of humour and imagination. Watch the video to learn more about it, and hear Harshikaa read out a little bit too! 

#ACKandFriends is a weekly live show by our Amar Chitra Katha editorial team, where we connect with India’s top children’s authors and give audiences a sneak peek into the creative process behind writing books for kids. The show airs every Friday at 5:00 pm on our Facebook and Youtube channels.

What’s in a Name?

Long ago, people would give long names to their kids. It was believed that long names brought in good fortune. In a small Indian village, there lived a couple with their two sons. To call upon great fortune, the couple had named one of their sons Tala Bini Bendo Toko Miki Sembu Chima Chimena Kit Kit Kuki Muzi Pizi Hala and the other son was called Semu.

The two kids were very close to each other. They spent quality time playing and studying together. On an ill-fated day, while playing a ball game with his brother, Semu fell into a well.

Illustration: Bidya Pradhan

His brother panicked but quickly ran home. He said, “Mother, Semu has fallen into the well. We need help.” His mother was feeding the birds in the courtyard. Hearing the news she freaked out and rushed to her husband and exclaimed, “Semu fell into a well. Get a ladder soon!” The father got a ladder and hurried to the place of accident, “I am coming, Semu!” In no time, Semu was rescued from the well, safe and sound.

Everything went on as smooth as silk, until one of the fine summer noons. The brothers were excited to pluck ripe juicy mangoes from the tree. Tala Bini Bendo Toko Miki Sembu Chima Chimena Kit Kit Kuki Muzi Pizi Hala climbed up the tree. Semu pointed the ripest mango to be plucked. Alas! The fruit was very high up and the branch was too weak. CRACK!

Illustration: Bidya Pradhan

Semu hurried home to seek help, “Mother, Tala Bini Bendo Toko Miki Sembu Chima Chimena Kit Kit Kuki Muzi Pizi Hala is in danger of falling off the mango tree.” She couldn’t believe, “What? Poor Tala Bini Bendo Toko Miki Sembu Chima Chimena Kit Kit Kuki Muzi Pizi Hala.”

Illustration: Bidya Pradhan

She ran to get help from her husband, “Come quickly! Tala Bini Bendo Toko Miki Sembu Chima Chimena Kit Kit Kuki Muzi Pizi Hala is in danger of falling from the mango tree.” The three ran towards the mango tree. The father who carried a ladder to rescue his son yelled on his way assuring, “Tala Bini Bendo Toko Miki Sembu Chima Chimena Kit Kit Kuki Muzi Pizi Hala! We are coming. Stay put.”

Unfortunately, by the time they reached to rescue him, the poor boy had already fallen from the tree. They took him to the hospital where they got to know that his leg had been fractured. In the hospital, the couple wondered that they could have saved Tala Bini Bendo Toko Miki Sembu Chima Chimena Kit Kit Kuki Muzi Pizi Hala if only he had a shorter name. A couple on the next bed overheard the entire incident. The lady said to her husband, “We will name our child Mimi, Mi for short!” The incident spread in the village like a fire. Since then, people kept shorter names for their kids.

Read more interesting folk tales and legends on the ACK Comics app!

The King Who Loved Stories

Every region has different legends and lore that help us learn the essential values of life. While we all love listening to stories, we know that stories are a medium of inducing good sleep. Indeed, there are stories that make us yawn but here is a folktale from Karnataka about a king who never got bored of listening to stories.

A Story to End All Stories

Here is a legend from Karnataka telling the story of a king who never got bored of listening to stories.Art and Animation by Shruti Jain and Mudita SinghScript by Yukta Chopra

Posted by The Amar Chitra Katha Studio on Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Art and Animation: Shruti Jain and Mudita Singh
Script: Yukta Chopra

8 Things You Didn’t Know About Amar Chitra Katha

Amar Chitra Katha has been India’s beloved comic for more than five decades. Here are some interesting facts about Amar Chitra Katha you would be thrilled to hear. How many did you know?

#1 Amar Chitra Katha now has an app!

Illustration: ACK Design Team

When Amar Chitra Katha started, the comics were put together by hand, from colouring to the text. 53 years later, Amar Chitra Katha has its own app, with 300+ titles and over half a million subscribers!

#2 Nobody fact-checks like Amar Chitra Katha! 

Illustration: H.S.Chavan

Did you know that Amar Chitra Katha’s fact-checking is so good that in our Chandra Shekhar Azad comic, the writers at the time actually tracked down the actual name of a shop he once stopped at?

#3 Amar Chitra Katha is on Alexa!

Illustration: ACK Design Team

The ACK Quiz skill is one of the most played properties on Amazon’s Alexa. Have you tried it yet? Psst, it works on your Amazon Fire Stick-enabled TV as well.

#4 Amar Chitra Katha’s first title has been reprinted more times than you can count!

Illustration: Yusuf Bangalorewala

The first-ever title of Amar Chitra Katha, ‘Krishna’ has been reprinted over 200 times. That’s a lot of reprints. The crazy thing is it’s still as popular today as it was when it was first published.

#5 Amar Chitra Katha’s Mahabharata series was illustrated by single artist!

Illustration: Dilip Kadam

Did you know that the three-volume set of Mahabharata by Amar Chitra Katha is 1340 pages long? While its various chapters were written by many writers, it was entirely illustrated by the veteran artist Dilip Kadam single-handedly? That’s what we call Maha-ART-ata!

#6 Amar Chitra Katha has been published in over 40 languages!

Illustration: Souren Roy

The Amar Chitra Katha title, Mahatma Gandhi, alone has been translated into over 20 Indian and international languages including Mandarin, French, Portuguese and Taiwanese.

#7 Amar Chitra Katha’s art is all about the details 

Illustration: Ghanshyam Bochegeri

Even when it comes to art, Amar Chitra Katha’s research is insanely detailed. For example, if you pick up Param Vir Chakra, you will see the weaponry, the uniforms and the helmets change as time progresses in the comic? The title took twice as much time to create because of the minute details the editorial had to look into, including the change in helmets between wars, the correct tank used in a particular war, or the exact mine detector used in a particular confrontation.

#8 Amar Chitra Katha makes Indian Railways look good!

Illustration: ACK Design Team
Illustration: ACK Design Team
Illustration: ACK Design Team

There is a large mural from A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Valmiki’s Ramayana at the Rameshwaram railway station. There is also a mind-blowing piece of art done of the celestial wedding of Meenakshi and Sundara Pandian from Shakti at the Madurai Junction station.

Read Amar Chitra Katha’s best-selling titles on the ACK Comics app, and on major e-tail platforms like Amazon, Flipkart and others.

Writer Write-Up: Shabnam Minwalla

Shabnam Minwalla is a distinguished children’s author, her body of work includes When Jiya Met Urmila, The Shy Supergirl, Lucky Girl, and The Nimmi series. At the tender age of ten, she realized her passion for writing and began a career in journalism in her early twenties. It was only after becoming a mother did she realize her true calling for writing books, eventually writing her first book, The Six Spellmakers of Dorabji Street. However, the transition from newspapers to books wasn’t that easy. Reminiscing about those days, she says,

“When I first started writing, my stories sounded like long news reports. It took me sometimes to realize that journalism has to do with conveying facts, thus, you stick to certain rules. Fiction, on the other hand, demands you to break the rules.” 

As she got into the flow of writing for kids, Shabnam’s past experiences turned out to be quite useful. All the places she had been, people she had met, and ideas she had found new life in her stories. Her books are packed with drama, comedy, and horror. In fact, most of her books are horror-themed, something that’s quite unique in the Indian children’s literature scene. She giggles, “It is fun to be scared in a safe way. When you know that it is just in the pages of the book, it is fun.” So what’s her inspiration? In her words, it’s everyday objects. She then adds real experiences and incidents around these and tops it off with a healthy dash of humour. That’s the secret recipe to her super amazing bestsellers. 

Growing up reading Enid Blyton, she always thought that fantasy and adventure can only take place in quaint English towns. That changed when she started writing her own books. A prominent part of her books are the streets and bylanes of Indian cities. Her popular book What Maya Saw brings alive the streets of South Mumbai and the architectural splendour of one of Mumbai’s most prestigious institutions, St. Xavier’s College. Spending most of her life in the town, she wanted to make kids more aware of the beautiful side of the bustling city of Mumbai. 

Shabnam loves interacting with kids in person, at literature festivals, workshops, book fairs and exhibitions. Writing is a lonely profession, she believes, which is why a writer should interact with the outside world as much as possible. Interactions pave their way to stories. “With the lockdown, I’m more at home nowadays though. Lots of family time! I usually write when the kids go to school, but now, I’m writing through the night!”

#ACKandFriends is a weekly live show by our Amar Chitra Katha editorial team, where we connect with India’s top children’s authors and give audiences a sneak peek into the creative process behind writing books for kids. The show airs every Friday at 5:00 pm on our Facebook and Youtube channels.

Writer Write-Up: Sowmya Rajendran

Sowmya Rajendran loves writing for children of all ages, from tiny tots to young adults. She beautifully weaves stories around topics that a lot of people might consider too adult for kids, but are very crucial for kids to learn about to help them develop into healthy, well-rounded individuals. Her writing style is laced with humour and thought-provoking, compelling readers to ponder about what they read for days. 

Her first picture book was Aana and Chena, and since then, there has been no turning back. Her readers have showered love and appreciation on her body of work, such as Power Cut!, Nirmala and Normala, The Lesson, School is Cool, Wings to Fly, and the Mayil series, among others. Sowmya received the Sahitya Akademi’s Bal Sahitya Puraskar for Mayil Will Not Be Quiet. As per Sowmya, she has always loved playing with words and weaving stories, ever since school days; she feels she was destined to be a writer.

Her Mayil series is told as the diary of an Indian girl, and touches upon various sensitive topics such as gender discrimination, stereotypes, adolescence, and more. So how did the Mayil series come to be? Sowmya and her dear friend Niveditha Subramaniam, who is also the co-author of the Mayil series, used to have various conversations about gender issues. Various contemporary issues were not talked about at home nor taught to them in school. With a desire to create a resource book on gender for school kids, the two women set out to draft their manuscript, a much more serious take on the subjects they wanted to discuss. Unfortunately, this was shot down by almost every publishing house they approached, till finally, Radhika Menon, founder and editor of Tulika Books, suggested that they rework the manuscript into something more light-hearted and kid-friendly. The rest is history.

Talking about the Mayil series, Sowmya said that Mayil started as a character but later turned into a voice. Now, there are times when the authors disagree with Mayil but let her have her opinions. The diary form of writing also gave them the freedom to talk about a range of topics, including politics. The character is very much biographical in nature, with the authors deliberately letting Mayil make mistakes, judge people, be confused, and think through things at her own pace. The character has evolved and grown through the series, just like any child would. Watch the video to learn more about Sowmya and her journey, and hear a small excerpt from the book!  

#ACKandFriends is a weekly live show by our Amar Chitra Katha editorial team, where we connect with India’s top children’s authors and give audiences a sneak peek into the creative process behind writing books for kids. The show airs every Friday at 5:00 pm on our Facebook and Youtube channels.

Who Was Ilango Adigal?

Ilango Adigal was a Jain monk, a Chera prince, and a poet. Legend has it that when he was born, an astrologer prophesied that he would become king. But since his elder brother was alive, Ilango chose to become a monk instead, removing himself from the line of succession. Silappadikaram is estimated to have been written in the 5th or 6th Century, but it is set some centuries earlier. Ilango Adigal describes a rich and cosmopolitan culture, where people from many different backgrounds – Greeks, Arabs and Tamil people – mingle, living and trading in the cities of Poompuhar and Madurai. He talks about a great flowering of the arts, of music and literature, which people from all sections of society could enjoy and contribute to. Much of our modern understanding of the way ancient Tamil cities were built, organised, and governed can be traced back to Ilango’s work and to other literature from the period.

Unlike the Sanskrit epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, Ilango Adigal’s Silappadikaram is not the story of royalty, or of gods, but the story of ordinary people and their struggles. The protagonist, Kannagi, is in every way the equal of the king and queen, and even their moral superior, since they fail to provide justice.

Amar Chitra Katha’s take on Kannagi is available on the ACK Comics app and on all major e-tailers like Amazon, Flipkart and others.

Writer Write-Up: Asha Nehemiah

Asha Nehemiah is a renowned children’s author who has written several picture and chapter books, in a literary career spanning 20 years. She began her professional life as a copywriter in an advertising agency, but, luckily for her, a series of fortunate events took her from her copywriting job to a stint as a sub-editor for an academic publisher, to eventually writing her own books.

Her best-selling titles include Behind the Lie, Trouble with Magic, Granny’s Sari, The Village with a Long Name, and The Adventures of Mooli series. Funny characters, even funnier names and outlandish escapades are unique traits of her books. Interestingly, her love for food and cooking also seep into her writing; her books are peppered (pun intended) with references to local culinary delights, leaving you drooling at the mouth. When asked if this was intentional, Asha replied in the affirmative, saying she considers food to be a creative aspect of life, one that should be introduced to kids as soon as possible.

In her book Behind the Lie, Asha touches on the sensitive topic of domestic violence. We were curious as to what made her take up such a serious topic for her especially young audience. This was her reply.

“Books are a natural way to introduce kids to both the beautiful and ugly sides of life. Parents should not shy away from talking about these things with their kids, and setting the right context becomes very important.”

So what inspired The Village with a Long Name? The idea came to her from her real-life experiences living in Tamil Nadu, where villages really do have extremely long names. She wanted to introduce this part of India to kids and thought a picture book with a sprinkle of humour and a dash of craziness would do the magic. She was absolutely correct! A short storytelling session by the author was ample proof of this. Watch the video to learn more about Asha and her journey!

#ACKandFriends is an weekly live show by our Amar Chitra Katha editorial team, where we connect with India’s top children’s authors, and give audiences a sneak peek into the creative process behind writing books for kids. The show airs every Friday at 5:00 pm on our Facebook and Youtube channels.