Leap of Faith

Pragya NatarajanJune 5, 2023CourageInterfaith Connections

Artwork by Aditya Rao, Age 16

For many years, I collected Amar Chitra Kathas.

As an Indian-American, the cultural traditions of India seep into my life and the way I view the world through fantastical stories. Stories passed through thousands of years to fill my mind with a myriad of tales and lessons. From Jataka tales to Bala Vihar and more, India’s traditions have so many thousands of years of texts and interpretations. Most of my knowledge of Indian folktales, stories, myths, and more are from Amar Chitra Kathas. Comic writer Ananth Pai decided to publish comics of Indian folktales, myths, legends, visionaries and more in English so that children across India would be able to access these stories and to read stories of their own heritage rather than just the British novels they’re taught at school.

Karma, the idea that every deed will come back to affect you in your next lives, is a concept that has been perpetuated heavily in the media. However, just as important as Karma, is the concept of Dharma.

Dharma is the idea that one must protect one’s honor and do one’s duty. The action of disrespecting someone is violating their Dharma. Among Amar Chitra Kathas, stories of valor such as the Mahabharatha were among my favorites. The Mahabharata is a literary epic, a religious text of sorts filled with the life story of all the Pandavas from the story of how they were conceived from gods, to the war strategies and formations used on either side. War epics and stories of courage and valor are exalted in Indian tradition and culture.

In the Mahabharata, Shakuni, the trickster, helps Duryodhana and the Kaurava Princes trick Yudhishthira and the Pandava Princes into betting all they own in gambling, succeeding in taking the kingdom that rightfully belonged to the Pandavas from them. The Kauravas consider the wife of the Pandavas, Draupadi, as a possession and attempt to humiliate her to destroy the honor of the Pandavas. After this incident, the Pandavas beg for a rematch and instead take exile into the forest over losing their wife. With the violation of their Dharma and the loss of their kingdom, the god Krishna helps them gain an army and the standing they need to earn back their kingdom.

Before they set off for battle, the Pandava brother Arjuna is hesitant to fight the Kauravas because they are his cousins. He doesn’t want to fight his kin and spill his own family’s blood. However, Krishna talks to Arjuna and reminds him that he must have the courage to fight for himself, and the courage to protect his dharma and fight for what rightfully belongs to him. A real-life example of this ideal is Jhansi Ki Rani (Queen of Jhansi), who fought to her very last breath to keep the British from taking over her kingdom and died an honorable death, fighting with courage for as long as she could.

On one hand, courage is the ability to fight against obstacles. On the other hand, courage is the ability to seize opportunities. Amar Chitra Kathas also include stories of humor, such as Tenali Rama. In this story, Raman of Tenali starts off as a lazy young man who wants wealth. But, he has the courage to seize opportunities even in the face of authority. He asks a 10-headed goddess how she would manage if all her noses started running at the same time, and makes her laugh so much that she allows him to take both gifts of wealth and knowledge from her, rather than choosing just one. What I admire about Tenali Rama is that he has the courage to make the most of opportunities while having fun.

Most importantly, Tenali Rama has the courage to question what people believe to be right, which is what gained him renown as the Court Jester. Once, there was a renowned scholar who came to the kingdom and asked for anyone to tell him something he did not know. No one in the kingdom had the courage to step up, but Rama volunteered to speak with the scholar. Rama brought bundles in a bag, used sanskrit terms to describe them, and asked the scholar if he knew what was in the bag based on the terms used to describe them. The scholar panicked when he couldn’t answer, and was dumbfounded when Rama opened the bag to show bundles of grass tied with the rope used to tie cows, and respectfully thanked Rama for reminding him of the value of simple things. Rama is courageous enough to question people and their beliefs, and humbled the scholar who was glad for such a debate.

The Mahabharatha, Jhansi ki Rani, and Tenali Rama are among many stories that taught me how important courage is to seize opportunities. Whether it’s the courage to fight for your Dharma, or the courage to question the world around you, courage is needed to take that step forward to shape your future. Courage is necessary to decide how you will proceed to shape your world, and to decide how the surrounding world will shape you.

All these years of learning about courage have led me to the first big decision in my life: choosing a college. After years of hard work I applied to many universities to major in Political Science, and I had to make a decision between a good college closer to home and George Washington University, in Washington DC, the city I’d always dreamed of living and working in. GW is so far away from everything I’ve known. My parents, my friends, teachers, and community. It would be my first time really living in a city, and in practicality it would make sense to choose the closer school. However, I knew I would regret it if I did not take that leap of faith, and I seized the opportunity I felt might never come again. This fall I will be attending The George Washington University in Washington DC as a Political Science Major in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, and I will also become an adult. And I know that this leap of courage won't go to waste.

Pragya Natarajan is an eleventh grader at Cupertino High School in California. Her hobbies are watching animated tv shows, running, reading, writing, and art. Her favorite color is red, and she loves interacting with people.