Denver, Colorado : Over 3000 children from 45 states nationwide registered and participated in the preliminary phase of Kaun Banega Ramayan Expert (KBRE) held all over the USA. The competition was conducted by Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) to celebrate the birth centenary of Shri Guruji. The contest proved an all-time hit, with the great Hindu epic creating a multigenera-tional cohesion between children brought up in this country and their relatives abroad, while keeping the aeons-old Hindu cultural heritage alive and accessible to the youth here. Prizes include monetary gifts and mementos.
The format of the contest was just as unique as the contest itself. To enter the contest, children registered online and took the online quiz. The online portion of the quiz started on January 14, the Makar Sankranti Day and went on until April 9. The in-person exams started on Ramanavami i.e., April 6. During the month, on three weekends and at more than 100 Balagokulam and other centers nationwide, young children of various age groups appeared for written tests under the watchful eye of volunteers. More than 200 participants, who had chosen Sunnyvale as their exam center, came together in the Forum 1 auditorium at DeAnza College in Cupertino. Participants competed for cash and other prizes to the tune of $14,000.
Reports received from various locations indicate that the entire process was very organised and fair. The children came into the exam centers in a very orderly manner and were seated according to their age. For each age group there were many knowledgeable volunteers assisting. The parents of the children participated in other activities nearby for the entire time. Prior to testing, children and parents were briefed about the procedure. Sealed envelopes of the test questions were opened in the presence of parents.
Evaluation of the answer papers will be done in the coming weeks with the help of expert panel members and volunteers. Results are expected to be announced on May 21.
Feedback was provided from both children and parents from various centers. Smt. Lakshmi Immadi of Houston, whose son competed, told organisers that she hoped the competition would be conducted annually. Smt. Shailaja Dasika (Cupertino, CA) was grateful that the competition encouraged her to discuss important moral values with her children. ?HSS should continue taking these exams every year. As children grow they will learn more and more from the same story of Ramayana as they look at it from different angles. HSS should also have contests on Mahabharata and other Hindu literature,? suggested Smt. Dasika. It was a view shared by Smt. Lalitha Balachandran (Atlanta, GA) who called it a ?very good project undertaken by HSS, bringing up awareness about our literature?.
Kumar Gondi of Simi Valley, CA, father of Suma, was emphatic that this contest should have been held long ago. ?Material available on the web site was well-prepared and very well-organised. This helped Suma in her preparation,? he added. Shri Mehrotra also of Simi Valley, CA, said that his son Pawan ?learnt not only the story and the sequence of events and now that he is older, he is able to understand and appreciate the morals behind the stories much better?. ?The entire process has been a joy. My son has learnt a lot about our culture through Ramayana. The best part is that we learnt a lot too,? said Smt. Anjali and her husband (Sunnyvale, CA). This was a very common refrain that was heard.
Students also expressed their opinions. ?The test was good; of course you have to study for it,? said Nirja Gupta of Sugar Land, TX. Rohan Dasika added, ?Before preparing for the contest, I knew little about Ramayana. But now I know so much more!? Swasthi said, ?Well, my parents have been telling me these wonderful stories about Rama, Sita, and Hanuman for all these months. I have had such a wonderful time sitting with them every day after dinner that now I feel I am going to miss it?. Veena Madoori of Ventura, CA, said she was always fascinated by the character of Hanuman and she loves telling these stories to her younger siblings. ?I wish I had got Guru Distinction instead of ati-uttama?, commented Astha (Pleasanton, CA) as she now knows that being a Guru is better than ati-uttama, which is great too.
This unique programme that has brought many American-Hindu families together and taught our epics to them was organised by Balagokulam, a project of HSS and a non-profit cultural organisation whose nearly 100 branches throughout the country strive to promote Hinduism.
(The writer can be contacted at [email protected])