The Fairfield Film Society Presents

"Myths from the West & the East"

A Major Grant Project

What do Star Wars, the Odyssey and the Ramayana have in common?

This was the question explored in the unique project created by the Fairfield Film Society (FFS) and Vedic Audio Knowledge (VAK) in 2003-04. With the support of major funding from Humanities Iowa (HI) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), “Myths from the West & the East” created a bridge of understanding between our familiar mythic traditions of the West and not-so-familiar mythic traditions of the East.

Touching audiences of over 15,000, the grant enabled FFS and VAK to complete the production of the third and final volume of the epic Ramayana, and to present a series of public programs designed to foster deeper awareness and appreciation for the cultural traditions of South and Southeast Asia in the context of world literature.

Part I – The Audio Production of the Ramayana

Background on the Ramayana

Narrator Michael
Sternfeld in the
recording studio
created over 150
different character
voices for the
production of
Volume III of
The Ramayana

The completion of the Ramayana audio production was a landmark humanities event. The Ramayana is one of the most timeless epics in world literature. It tells the story of the illustrious hero, Rama, whose mission was to purify the world of ignorance and restore virtue in the world. Originally written by the sage, Valmiki, the Ramayana was originally chanted in Sanskrit, the language of ancient India. Although estimates of its age vary widely (with a range of 1000 B.C. to 200 B. C.), the exact date of composition of the Ramayana cannot be fixed, since Indian epic literature was transmitted orally, generation after generation. The Ramayana is one of the two great epics of Indian culture, along with its companion epic, the Mahabharata. Although the Ramayana is a world literature classic and is revered by people of India, Burma, Thailand and Indonesia as the most sacred of epic texts, no one has ever taken the time to read and record the entire unabridged Ramayana in English. Beginning his own epic quest Michael Sternfeld undertook the project to record the entire Ramayana as a dramatic reading in English, preserving the essential oral tradition of the epic tale. After 7 years in the making, this production is now complete, allowing western listeners to enjoy for the first time the Ramayana as it was meant to be heard.

Michael Sternfeld, Program Director
of the Fairfield Film Society,
receives the "2004 Outstanding
Project of the Year Award" from
Chris Rossi, Executive Director
of Humanties Iowa

The Ramayana was written in poetry of unsurpassed dramatic power and richness and it contains over 24,000 couplet verses, or slokas, making it the second longest epic poem ever written (after the Mahabharata).

The translation chosen for this recording is the Srimad Valmiki Ramayanam, by the renowned Indian journalist, N. Raghunathan. Volume I, including the first two books of the Ramayana and containing 14 ninety-minute cassettes, was released in January 1998. Volume II, including the next three books of the Ramayana and containing 16, 95-minute cassettes, was released in January 2000. The third and final volume, containing the final two books of the Ramayana and containing 18, 100-minute audiocassettes, was released November 2004. The entire production has been digitally remastered and was released on several MP3 formats in July 2006.

Part II – Public Programs

Interspersed between a grueling production schedule to record this world’s longest audiobook, FFS presented three public outreach programs throughout the Midwest. Citing the project’s broad outreach and creative design, HI, the state affiliate of NEH, awarded “Myths from the West & East” the prestigious, “2004 Outstanding Project of the Year Award.”


This event is available on video from
Vedic Audio Knowledge

First Event

"The Most Excellent Hero’s Quest"
A Journey Through the Ramayana &
Star Wars With Side Trips into The Lord of the Rings & Harry Potter

Fairfield Public Library, Fairfield, Iowa
March 2, 2004

All of us are on a quest, and it elevates life to experience our everyday living as it was meant to be lived--as a hero's journey.

This was the call to adventure that attracted young and old to the first in the series of mythic public programs. This special program was a dynamic, multi-media presentation drawing young audiences (and many adults who came) into the world of mythic heroes, their quests, and how they are all related. Audiences learned of the common themes of epic stories and discovered, for example, that George Lucas was inspired by the Ramayana when he created "Star Wars"? Film clips illustrated the "Star Wars"/ Ramayana connection and how their themes re-appear in many other stories, including "The Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter".Michael Sternfeld led the afternoon adventure, along with "Lord of the Rings" expert Susan Andersen and other special guests. The highly interactive presentation style featured great film clips, an interactive retelling of the Ramayana, improvisational theater games, and a special performance of Fairfield High School's All-State choral reading of "The Lord of the Rings". Even the heroes themselves made cameo appearances!

This event is available on video from
Vedic Audio Knowledge

Second Event

"The Ramayana: A Living Tradition"
A Multi-Cultural Program Exploring the
Power of Myth in the Great Epics of
World Civilization

The Institute in the Quad Cities, Iowa/Illinois
June 29, 2004

The multimedia program explored the ancient 3,000 year old epic and its relevance to world culture as a living tradition. The Ramayana is revered as the sacred story to 1 billion people across the globe, not only throughout India, but also throughout Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia. This presentation explored how the Ramayana has had a seminal impact on western mythic traditions providing source material for many of our fairy tales and legends.

The featured presenter, Dr. Eira Patnaik, professor emeritus of Comparative Literature, explored how the Ramayana, despite its ancient roots, remains a vital living tradition today, inextricably woven into the cultural and spiritual values of India. Comparative mythologist, Michael Sternfeld’s, presentation illustrated how the unparalleled depth in the mythic structure of the Ramayana enables it to act as a container for universal cross-cultural values. The evening concluding with a Kathak dance performance of stories of the Ramayana by dancer Wendy Stegall.

Sanskrit vocalist Sai Ganesh Nagpal (right) and Kathak dancer Wendy Stegall
added to richness of the Quad Cities program


Third Event

The Ramayana Odyssey

A Radio Broadcast
November 23, 2003 on KSUI
an NPR affiliate

Facing off against each other in the radio interview were Odysseus and Rama, the illustrious heroes of
the Odyssey and the Ramayana

In the final event of the public programs Joan Kjaer, host of the ever-popular NPR show “Know the Score” interviewed mythologists Michael Sternfeld and Susan Andersen in an epic adventure into the Odyssey and the Ramayana. This event presented a cross-cultural perspective on myth, the mind, art and culture. Using the Odyssey and the Ramayana to illustrate universal values of myth, this program created a bridge of understanding between the Odyssey, as the seminal myth of western civilization, and the Ramayana as the great mythic epic of the east. During this lively exchange Mr. Sternfeld and Miss Andersen dove deep into the mythic themes of the Ramayana and the Odyssey, played audio clips from both of the epics and explored some of the subtleties of the structure of myth within our own consciousness. 

This program was broadcast to a large listening audience of approximately of twelve to fifteen thousand people throughout the Midwest region.

Susan Andersen and Michael Sternfeld
look up to Rama, the hero of the Ramayana

“Myths from the West and East” was made possible in part, by a major grant from Humanities Iowa, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

Video productions of the events were
made possible by a grant from the Iowa Arts Council.

The views and opinions expressed by this project do not necessarily reflect
those of Humanities Iowa or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Michael Sternfeld
releases the complete 
Ramayana audio
production, which at
75 hours, now
stands as the world's
longest audiobook

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