G. Manickam Govindaraju
School of Media and Communication
Taylor’s University Lakeside Campus
EVERY culture has its own stories that inspire, motivate, educate, and give a purpose as well as direction to the readers and listeners. While the validity of some stories remains a question, takeaway from them is the purpose of the stories being shared generations after generations in ensuring the society remain civil to each other.
The history of storytelling travels back to thousands of years. Many arts found in caves depicts stories to us through images of the cave dwellers daily life. The early form of known storytelling was oral communication until the invention of written language. The Greeks are the first known civilization to develop writing and apply them in storytelling. Many other civilizations also have their amazing stories continuously written to be shared near and far.
Whatever the stories are, they contain vast arrays of tales that stimulate, entertain and most of all have moral lessons behind them, especially stories for children. There are no stories that teach children to be greedy, selfish, snobbish, and arrogant. All stories that target children (adults, too) teach the consequences of such behaviours. The common ones are stories of helping people in need. Immaterial to the race and culture one belongs to, the moral of helping those in need is deeply indoctrinated since childhood through stories.
Just like other cultures, the importance of giving and sharing are also very profound in most of the stories that come from India. Philanthropy is not a new phenomenon for India as these concepts are entrenched in the epics such as Ramayana and Mahabaratha. According to Bhagavad Gita, a scripture that is part of Mahabaratha says, “One who enjoys abundance without sharing with others is indeed a thief.” In this sense, Hinduism strongly believes in “annadhanam” or food offering for those in need as it is seen as a highest form of service to God.
There is a compilation of stories on 63 disciples of Lord Shiva in a Tamil literature book called Periya Puranam. One story on the importance of “annadhanam” was of a disciple known as Ilayankudi Maranar. His name was Maranar and Ilayankudi was his village. He was said to be very pious and practised food offering for those in need before taking his own meal. People said that he was able to perform “annadhanam” because he had the wealth to do so. To demonstrate Maranar’s devotion to the people, God made Maranar poor that he ended up living in a small hut with his wife. However, it never stopped him from continuing his service. His strong principle of selflessness earned him God’s blessings and people realised his devotion. These stories are shared over and over to children to inculcate the value of giving.
During the prime time of agriculture in India, every feudal landlord in Kerala would ask if there was anyone left without food, before closing their main gates every night. This practice shows the level of empathy each landlord had for their people in making sure that no one goes to bed hungry. This is a story of reality and not some tale.
Significance of giving food is also shared across the cultures. Recently, I came across a beautiful story of Umar Al-Khattab, the second Caliph who went on patrol of the city Madinah and saw a distant fire in the desert. In those days, the rulers of all cultures were known to disguise themselves and go on patrol to guard the city as well as to find out on how their subjects were living. So, as the Caliph and his aide approached the campsite, they saw a woman and her children who were crying. Through his conversation with the woman, the Caliph realised that the woman and her children were starving and had nothing to eat. This was due to the harsh conditions in the country, known as Year of Ashes. Upon realizing that his subjects were facing famine, Caliph Umar immediately ran to the Treasury followed by his loyal companion to fetch some flour, dates, money, and clothes, and went back to the woman and her children. The Caliph himself cooked and served them the food without revealing his identity to the woman. He never expected gratitude or anything in return. He understood his position as a leader to serve his subjects, an epitome of servant leadership, a value which is forgotten by most leaders in the world.
Why is it necessary to recall these stories now? Well, if not now, when? These stories maybe true or tales, but what is important are the lessons learnt from them. The stories are not only for children. They are meant for all to learn, to improve and to transform our thoughts and actions.
The situation we are going through in Malaysia now is very real that people are helpless and hopeless. White flags and black flags are being raised to seek support. People are going through difficult times due to continuous lockdowns and many are unable to get by without aid. The hard hit is mostly the middle class and middle-upper, who have lost their source of income and at the same time do not qualify for any benefits from the government because they do not meet the criteria set. We learn from the Caliph and Maranar on the importance of serving food for those in need. Ensuring no one suffers from hunger should be the priority now. We cannot wait for a Caliph and Maranar to do the job. There is no point in telling people who are in need to seek from God. God operates through people like us. Some people fail to realise this simple philosophy and it shows who they are. When we give, our children see and learn the power and value of giving and sharing. This will become their story to share on how we fought this pandemic. Let us help to lift each other and get by this difficult time together. This too shall pass.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of TVS.
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