Amid all the noise over communal polarisation, Sabarkantha district of north Gujarat throws up a surprise. In this district, two villages, set up to rehabilitate around 400 families affected by a dam project, were named by the then local BJP MLA and Gujarati film actor Upendra Trivedi as Ramayan and Mahabharat, the two epics of Hindu mythology.
Speaking about their names, Trivedi said that during the relevant periods these two television serials had been very popular. Trivedi’s brother Arvind had become popular for his role of Ravana in Ramayan.
Although on the revenue records, these two villages bear the names as Pratapgadh and Sabli, they are popularly known as Ramayan and Mahabharat. This is evident when one speaks to people in the 28-km stretch from Sabarkantha district headquarters, Himmatnagar, to these two villages that fall on the foothills of the historical Aravalli range. Interestingly, the sarpanch of Ramayan is a Muslim.
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“So if you ride a state transport bus, the destination on the board says “Ramayan & Mahabharat”, and not Pratapgadh and Sabli. Wven the anganwadi centre in the village is known as the Anganwadi Centre of Ramayan. On the bus routes to these villages, Ramayan is the last station and Mahabharat is the one before it. Ramayan Sarpanch Zakir Mansuri said, “In 1988, our villages — Pratapgadh and Sabli — were going to be submerged by the Gohai Jalakar Yojna, a dam project in the region. So, we were rehabilitated at this new place. At that time, two television serials — Ramayan and Mahabharat — were quite popular. The villages were named after them.”
“Trivedi had played a major role in rehabilitating the people of these two villages and he named them Ramayan and Mahabharat. And everybody in the village welcomed it heartily,” a 67-year-old villager, Kachrabhai Sagar, says.
Upendra Trivedi, who is also a veteran Gujarati film star who got elected as the BJP MLA from Bhiloda constituency at that time, said, “At that time, I struggled to get them rehabilitated in these two villages. They wanted to name the two villages after me and my brother, Arvind (who played the character of Ravana in Ramanand Sagar’s TV serial Ramayan), as a token of love and gratitude. I did not want that. So I proposed that they them after the two television serials that were very famous at that time.
“The names were given with full consent of the state government,” Trivedi said. Back then, Congress’s Chimanbhai Patel was the chief minister and Amarsinh Chaudhary was the irrigation minister.
Jagdish Sagar, another villager of Ramayan, said the two villages have been symbols of communal harmony in the region. “In 2002, Sabarkantha and the neighbouring areas were badly affected. However, not a single communal incident took place here. In fact, hundreds of Muslims had taken shelter in both Ramayan and Mahabharat in 2002 during those riot days,” Jagdish said.
However, Jagdish has, like many other villagers, grievances about the two villages being neglected by all successive state governments to an extent that the approach road to these village has not been re-built or repaired since 1988, when it was built.
“It is our village milk co-operative, and not the state government, that has been maintaining the kutcha road for smooth transportation of milk. It seems Ramayan and Mahabharat are off the state government’s radar altogether,” he remarked.