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Amar Chitra Katha
March 3, 2008 7:40 AM   Subscribe

A collection of comic books, Amar Chitra Katha is like the American Illustrated Classics, except that the stories are from Indian sacred texts, mythology, history, folktales and legends. It was conceived by Anant Pai. The series has sold over 86 million copies of about 440 titles.

If one clicks on the comic book covers there are the outlines of the stories.
posted by nickyskye (35 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Awwww...I'd love to get a look at the interiors...still, this is pretty neat.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:03 AM on March 3, 2008


kfb, the comic books are great, wonderfully drawn, lots of care. They're a fun way to learn about Indian history and traditions. That first link is a juicy one. On the index on the left, there're some wonderful Indian visuals in the Vedic Art, Photos, Posters link.
posted by nickyskye at 8:13 AM on March 3, 2008


These are great. Also, I wish I had my old Illustrated Classics. They are the only version I've ever read of Crusoe, Around the World in 80 Days, Invisible Man and probably many others.
posted by DU at 8:26 AM on March 3, 2008


My children grew up with these (we got them on a visit to India in the '70s). Their children are reading them now. I wonder if the older versions are worth anything. Any Indian comic collectors out there? LOL.
posted by Surfurrus at 8:41 AM on March 3, 2008


Cool! I'd love to check these out.

I still have about 2/3 of the entire Illustrated Classics series in a box somewhere.
posted by elendil71 at 8:47 AM on March 3, 2008


Just requested our library's only copy (no. 219, "Lokamanya Tilak" - the story of Lokamanya Tilak's life and struggle for the independence of India from British domination).

There are 439 entries for "Illustrated Classics." (I'd never picked up one of these, but I'm sure I will in an effort to catch up with all the stuff I didn't have time to read as an undergraduate Lit major.)

Thanks, nicky!!
posted by not_on_display at 8:55 AM on March 3, 2008


kittens for breakfast, Your comment was a productive challenge to find an Amar Chitra Katha comic book online. And I did it. :)

Here is The Ramayana at the Internet archive. It gives you a fair idea of the caliber of the drawing, story telling and quality.
posted by nickyskye at 9:00 AM on March 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


Oh, awesome! Thanks, nicky!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:11 AM on March 3, 2008


'Amar Chitra Katha' is the reason why I was so incredibly well-versed in Hindu mythology in Hindi class as a kid. So, so good.

I'd haul back stacks of these books, still brimming with that distinctive Indian printed matter smell, on trips back to the States, nearly splitting the ancient Samsonite luggage that would spend the remainder of the year above chests-of-drawers about the house.

I could spend hours poring through issues, and would occasionally bug my folks to make the trek to the Chicago Vedanta Society when I discovered they sold (greatly upmarked) issues of 'ACK.'

I also remember the gods/goddesses drawn to a mix of 1950s American pin-up art and ancient Chola frescoes. The goddesses and gopis: va-va-va-VOOM!!
posted by junebug at 9:34 AM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


I was raised in the early 70s on a diet of Amar Chitra Katha and Illustrated Classics (there was a junior version of those as well), and like junebug, owe all my knowledge of both Hindu mythology and folklore to ACK. Even though the graphics are not very good at first blush, they seem to grow on you, and the storyboard is developed with astonishing clarity with the right mix of detail and brevity.

My kids now read them with admittedly less enthusiasm then I had displayed; they have a lot more difficulty relating to the settings and general philosophies espoused in these stories. Glad to see these on the internet.
posted by rasputin98 at 9:44 AM on March 3, 2008


I think ACK, along with Tintin and Asterix, is why I've maintained a (possibly unhealthy) interest in comic art into adulthood. Here's a brief take on the ACK story for an Indian kids' magazine.

One question that's been bugging me all these years: the elaborate color codes for characters. Avatars of Vishnu are colored blue, as is Shiva (because of drinking poison, right, hence 'neelkantha'), but occasionally, so are dark-skinned mortals. Aside from these, high-caste/noble individuals are so light-skinned as to be indistinguishable from Europeans.

Do I have this breakdown right? And how was the blue-skinned iconography established? After all, in the Ramayana for example, Ram is colored blue, but obviously he didn't do any poison-drinking I can recall. I'm guessing it's just a visual code to set him apart and remind the reader that he's an incarnation of Vishnu.
posted by junebug at 10:00 AM on March 3, 2008


No retcons!
posted by klangklangston at 10:16 AM on March 3, 2008


You know junebug, I've wanted to know that for ages as well. If nobody pops by with an answer it might be a cool AskMe question.
posted by nickyskye at 10:18 AM on March 3, 2008


junebug> One question that's been bugging me all these years: the elaborate color codes for characters. Avatars of Vishnu are colored blue, as is Shiva (because of drinking poison, right, hence 'neelkantha'), but occasionally, so are dark-skinned mortals. Aside from these, high-caste/noble individuals are so light-skinned as to be indistinguishable from Europeans.

Do I have this breakdown right? And how was the blue-skinned iconography established? After all, in the Ramayana for example, Ram is colored blue, but obviously he didn't do any poison-drinking I can recall. I'm guessing it's just a visual code to set him apart and remind the reader that he's an incarnation of Vishnu.


First of all, not all avatars of Vishnu are colored blue (some of them aren't even human). Vamana, Parashurama, and Buddha have "normal" skin tones.

Vishnu himself is described in the scriptures as having blue skin -- this is why paintings of him which predate the ACK comics usually depict him as being blue.

As for the ACK comics, they have much worse art than I remembered. I think that this is true of nearly all of the comics and animation I enjoyed as a kid, but anyway. For those of you who have never read any of these, I highly recommend Chanakya, the story of a Machiavelli-type figure. The stylized artwork holds up fairly well, and the story is great. You'll wonder how they got away with marketing it to schoolchildren.

And junebug, as a Hindu growing up in Hyde Park, I used to go to the Chicago Vedanta center all the time as well. I loved that place.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 10:45 AM on March 3, 2008


see also
posted by jcruelty at 10:45 AM on March 3, 2008


and yes, most of what i know of hindu mythology i picked up from reading these as a kid!
posted by jcruelty at 10:46 AM on March 3, 2008


and why da rakshas always DARKIES? ain't that a bit racialist?
posted by jcruelty at 10:47 AM on March 3, 2008


Oh god, I have stacks of these sitting upstairs in my room back home. I also have a couple Chanakya comics. I'm surprised nobody's mentioned Tinkle. If Amar Chitra Kata introduced Indian kids to Hindu mythology, then Tinkle comics introduced them to folktales.
posted by theiconoclast31 at 11:00 AM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I always thought 'Tinkle' was 'ACK' marketed to younger readers, though I might be wrong on that.

As for the color codes: blue - still don't know what to make of it. Obviously, Krishna is traditionally depicted as blue, but as for Ram, I've seen him depicted in Indian art both as blue and light-skinned.

The Sanskrit 'rama' means 'dark' or 'black,' which would tie into the occasional 'ACK' use of blue to depict dark-skinned individuals. That way, Ram could be depicted as 'dark' while setting him apart from presumably low-caste or unwholesome characters (jcruelty, I think, has picked up on a fairly unfortunate element of Indian 'Fair and Lowely' culture as expressed in 'ACK' and other Indian visual media). That's my idea, which admittedly is speculative.

An aside: I found it completely trippy when Ram meets Parashurama. Avatar #6 meets avatar #7. Imagine the implications!
posted by junebug at 11:40 AM on March 3, 2008


Oh YAY! what a lovely thread this is turning out to be. Thanks guys.

jcruelty
, Thanks for the previous link to infini's excellent previous post on ACK. Cannot believe I missed that.

junebug, Varna means color in Sanskrit and is the usual word for caste, as well as jati, which means to be born. So I guess the caste system is more colorist than racist, more classist really. But maybe initially, a couple of thousand or so years BC it was originally racist. It depends on the theory about the invasion of the Aryans as the origin of caste in India. The Wikipedia entry on the history of the Indian caste system is interesting and informative.

UrineSoakedRube
(can't believe I just wrote that), such an interesting thing to find out about Chanakya. That's the name for the Diplomatic Enclave in New Delhi, Chanakyapuri (Chanakya Town). Now it seems entirely appropriate.

PS a quick aside and total derail that first link has amazing, healthy Indian vegetarian recipes too at the bottom of the page, the link to their sponsor, vegetarian-restaurants.net Something tasty to eat while enjoying the comics.
posted by nickyskye at 1:11 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ooh, very cool. Thanks nicky for also posting the link to the Ramayana so we can see inside! These are really well done.

And I love the Illustrated Classics--I bought some for my ESL classroom and the students were quite absorbed by them.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:53 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I love these comics! Sometimes, they also double as high camp homoerotica, too. I remember giggling myself stupid once* over Vikramaditya, which was full of all these muscly guys in loincloths having exchanges like:

"Prince Vikramaditya has a mighty weapon, from what I've heard"

"Yes, and not only is his weapon mighty, he also knows how to use it. He has truly been given a boon from the Gods!"

* I partially blame the Manali atmosphere for that one
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:25 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


And how was the blue-skinned iconography established? After all, in the Ramayana for example, Ram is colored blue, but obviously he didn't do any poison-drinking I can recall. I'm guessing it's just a visual code to set him apart and remind the reader that he's an incarnation of Vishnu.

There was an incident in either Midnight's Children or The Moor's Last Sigh, in which a Christian missionary was asked "What colour was Jesus?"

Now, this was a touchy issue, as Indians are obsessed with fairness as a sign of beauty, possibly relating historically to the Aryan invasion & dominance over the Dravidians. Thus, people in the south tend to be darker, as do those of lower castes, so the colour of one's skin is loaded with all kinds of cultural politics.

The missionary in the story was proselytising amongst lower caste Dravidians in the south, and unsure whether to say Jesus was fair (a sign of nobility) or dark (a representative & friend of the oppressed).

In the end, he cleverly bypassed the dilemma by saying "Why, Jesus was blue, of course! What else could he be?"
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:41 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


UbuRoivas> There was an incident in either Midnight's Children or The Moor's Last Sigh, in which a Christian missionary was asked "What colour was Jesus?"

Now, this was a touchy issue, as Indians are obsessed with fairness as a sign of beauty, possibly relating historically to the Aryan invasion & dominance over the Dravidians. Thus, people in the south tend to be darker, as do those of lower castes, so the colour of one's skin is loaded with all kinds of cultural politics.

The missionary in the story was proselytising amongst lower caste Dravidians in the south, and unsure whether to say Jesus was fair (a sign of nobility) or dark (a representative & friend of the oppressed).

In the end, he cleverly bypassed the dilemma by saying "Why, Jesus was blue, of course! What else could he be?"


This is going even more off-topic, but that reminds me of a story from Ramanujan's biography (or was it Chandrasekhar's?) that pretty much sums up the way I feel about how Hinduism and Christianity deal with the issue of suffering:

A Christian missionary is on a soapbox, telling a gathered crowd a parable:

"Once there was a dove being chased by a hawk. He was unable to shake off the hawk, so the dove flew to Shiva and begged him for help in escaping from the hawk's clutches. Shiva said, 'I am sorry, but it is your karma that you be caught and eaten. One cannot avoid the cycle of birth and rebirth so easily.'"

"The dove then flew to Vishnu and begged for his aid. Vishnu told the dove the same thing: it was the dove's karma to become the hawk's food."

"Then the dove flew to Jesus and begged to be saved. What do you think Jesus did?"

And before the missionary could answer his own question, a man in the crowd yelled out "Jesus killed the hawk and ate the dove!"
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 4:10 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Fun story UbuRoivas. Meeting my ex-husband's music guru in Calcutta, Bimalababu, he told me that Jesus was an avatar of Vishnu and then asked me rhetorically, "How could Jesus have been called King of the Jews when he didn't sit on a throne but on a lowly donkey?" When I said I didn't know, he said with a delightful twinkle and reverence that it was because Jesus was king of the kingdom of his mind. Such a nicely Hindu interpretation of Christianity. There was always more to fall in love with about India and that was one of those moments.

I think a missionary saying tactfully that Jesus was blue is another one of those moments.

And yes, can well imagine the Manali atmosphere could give a giggly, sillypuss state of mind to many people.
posted by nickyskye at 4:19 PM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


This thread has got me all misty! *sniff*

I was going to posit that 'blue Ram' was an invention of Raja Ravi Varma, but a quick look through a few Indian art books blew that idea out of the water. Blue Ram goes way back. The 'ACK' drawing style (though it varies from artist to artist) often has strong Varma influences.

However, the pin-up and old pre-Muslim Indian aesthetic is strong in 'ACK' as well, and the simple coloring keeps the stylization that's so important in Indian artistic traditions (and denied totally in Varma's work, so popular in the West and responsible for all the awful static realist Hindu calendar art around for the past umpteen years).

I think it might be time to dredge up my old Raj comix...
posted by junebug at 5:16 PM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


These are a lot of fun. I carry home a few every time I go to India. You can get them at Indian markets in the U.S. as well, albeit with a limited selection. They cover quite a scope, not just mythology, but important figures, philosophies, and events in India's history.
posted by aletheia at 6:05 PM on March 3, 2008


I too grew up reading stories of mythology from ACK, and later in college ended up reading the actual sanskrit versions of some of the stories, but now, I still remember the ACK versions.
posted by dhruva at 6:14 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


These are great! I wish they were more easily obtained.

A great gift for a kid: the Ramayana comic with the Ramayana action figures.
posted by Locative at 2:45 AM on March 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


obligatory link to Nina Paley's beyond-wonderful Sitayana.

OH MERA BHAGWAN! THE VIDEO'S OUT FINALLY!! JAI SITARAM!!!
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:41 PM on March 4, 2008


damn, you can't buy it yet; at least it's finished
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:44 PM on March 4, 2008


omb, UbuRoivas, that is one cool looking site. Oh mera bhagwan, ha! You're funny. whoa, Holy Hanuman, that Sita Sings the Blues has an *awesome* trailer. Got to see that! Jai SitaRam indeed.
posted by nickyskye at 8:22 PM on March 4, 2008


tell me about it, nickyskye! what a beautiful site! and the stills from the bits i haven't seen yet are making me feel like sita in lanka. aaaaargh! it's almost impossible to bear!

not much i can find out about it. googlenews tells me it won a special commendation at the berlin international film festival. it doesn't seem to have screened anywhere else yet. appropriately, it looks like it was first screened on valentine's day.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:00 PM on March 4, 2008


Can't wait to see it too UbuRoivas. I think it will be shown in Berlin this year at the Berlinale '08: 11.02.08 17:00 Kino Babylon, 13.02.08 11:30 Kino Babylon, 14.02.08 19:30 Kino Babylon.

From the stills, posters, prints, I really hope to see it. It *really* looks great.
posted by nickyskye at 9:20 PM on March 5, 2008


um, you *have* seen the work-in-progress shorts, right? right??

(they're in the first link; it's not possible that you haven't, in fact you were probably the one who put me onto Paley's Sitayana in the first place...)

also, they were shown, not will be - Germans apparently use Anglo-Aussie date formats, ie dd/mm not the American mm/dd :)
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:34 PM on March 5, 2008


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