Philatelist MR Ramesh Kumar speaks of his collection of Ramayana-themed stamps with much excitement. “India has not brought out too many stamps based on the Ramayana. There are probably 10-12 stamps, but countries such as Indonesia, Thailand and Nepal have brought out several. We have some with the images of Valmiki, Thulasidas and Ramcharitmanas,” says Ramesh Kumar over the phone from Goa where he is based.
The Irinjalakuda-native who retired as a chief scientist at the CSIR-National Institute of Oceanography, Goa, got hooked on philately as a child, “My father, MV Ranganatha Pai, was my first guru and the person who got me interested in collecting stamps. He also collected stamps,” the 64-year-old says. He has been collecting stamps for the past 50-odd years. As he grew up his interest in stamps also grew. He calls the hobby a great stressbuster adding that he has always made the time for it despite his work commitments.
The Ramayana collection, he explains, happened by chance. He was planning a collection of Indian mythology-themed stamps based on characters in them and got interested in the Ramayana. Contributing to his love of mythology were Amar Chitra Katha comics. Ramesh even found a Ramayana stamp that originated in South Korea. His sources have been many, and it has been the effort of a few years. He believes he might have most of the stamps based on the Ramayana available. Ramesh gets his stamps from philately dealers and ecommerce websites.
“Did you know there are ‘bazaar postcards’ with episodes from the epic? These were brought out in the Edwardian period (1901-1910). Episodes such as Sita Apaharan, (kidnapping of Sita), Vanavas (exile), Pattabhishekam (Rama’s coronation), Hanuman fetching mritasanjeevani (the herb of immortality) are among those on these postcards.” Bazaar postcards or the Edwardian period is important from a philatelic point of view in India. These are postcards with these images. The subjects were usually political ( mostly of English and Indian royalty), or religious, with pictures of gods from the Hindu pantheon, Raja Ravi Varma paintings and oleographs. Philatelists consider this an important period.
“Besides postcards, I have maxicards (postcards with stamps on the picture side), special covers (postage), and souvenir sheets on the theme. The covers have the Van Gaman path, Ramleela, characters such as Jatayu, Sabari and others from the Ramayana on them. I have one maxicard depicting Ek shloki Ramayan (the epic narrated in a stanza). The Bazaar postcards also have mythological characters from the epic. There is even a stamp on Ravana.” He also has stamps related to it like those of Dussehra and Deepavali (festivals that have a connection to the Ramayana). Nepal, incidentally, brought out a postcard on Sita in 1965.
Ramesh, a former president of the Goa Philately and Numismatics Society, has been collecting stamps on Antarctica, Kochi’s Postal History, climate change, biodiversity in India, Indian scientists, maximum cards, and vintage postcards among others.