Amar Chitra Katha – India’s Very Own Comic Art
by Annie Saxena on Feb 10, 2023
For an Indian child born in the twentieth century, Amar Chitra Katha and its engrossing world of stories were synonymous with growing up. Bridging the distance between convoluted Sanskrit texts and Enid Blyton’s stories found in school libraries, this iconic book series taught several generations of Indian children about the country’s rich heritage of folktales and mythology. The format and style of the comics struck a chord with children. India’s very own comic art was founded in 1967 by Anant Pai, a young journalist of that time. This avuncular writer and illustrator would go on to become widely recognised as the “father of Indian comics”. By 1980, Amar Chitra Katha had published 400 titles, covering mythological tales, historical figures and modern-day legends. What became one of the defining characteristics of these publications, apart from their iconic artwork and narratives was the research that went into each story. And although there have been tweaks to artistic styles over the years, the effort to gather accurate information holds as strong today as it did then. Some of the best-selling children's books on Hindu deities include the ‘Tales Of Durga’, where the story is replete with tales of the mother goddess and her many incarnations based on the Durga-Saptashati. Yet another comic is ‘Krishna’, which depicts the story of the most endearing and ennobling character in Indian mythology. Krishna has a particular appeal for children because he is one of them as no other deity. He is mischievous and naughty, but has divine powers. That is why Krishna becomes a living presence to all children who have heard stories about him. ‘Hanuman To The Rescue’ is the story of Hanuman and his adventures in the Ramayana. His adventures, particularly after he sets out to bring the herb Vishalya Karani to save Lakshmana, have been beautifully embellished in Krittivasa’s Ramayana on which this Amar Chitra Katha is based. Several other stories that Amar Chitra Katha has incorporated include mythological comics such as Sati and Shiva, Nachiketa, Savitri and Tirupati. The Epics include The Ramayana, Bhishma, Gandhari, Uloopi, Karna & Ravana. Among literary classics there are Vasavadatta, Kannagi, Nagananda and Shakuntala. Fables & folktales encompass stories such as Panchatantra, Jataka Tales, Avvaiyar, Lilan Chanesar. There is a category of biographies too such as Rana Pratap, Narsinh Mehta and Raja Raja Chola, to name a few. These comics are an important cultural institution that have helped to define, for several generations of readers, what it means to be an Indian. Its first heroes were Hindu gods and goddesses including Krishna, Rama, and Durga, whose stories were drawn from classical Hindu mythology. In the 1970s, historical Indian figures were added into the mix, including medieval warrior kings such as Shivaji and Akbar and modern freedom fighters such as Bhagat Singh and Mahatma Gandhi. To date, the comic book series entails over 440 titles and has sold more than 100 million issues. Over the past several decades, this English-language comic book series has been wildly popular with the middle classes in India and with the global Indian diaspora. For these readers, as for the producers, the comics in this series are not considered primarily an entertainment product. Instead, they are regarded as foundational texts for religious and national education of young readers and continue to inform and inspire hundreds of children to date.