The birth centenary of the legendary professor of English in Presidency College, Calcutta, T.N.Sen was observed by the alumni on 9th July 2009. Some of us wrote reminiscences that were published in a souvenir. Here are my memories of this remarkable teacher of English literature.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought…
I am looking at a rare document: a small piece of blue notepaper covered with writing impeccably spaced, each letter perfectly formed. This is the character certificate-cum-recommendation Professor T.N. Sen wrote out for me at his residence at 18/56, Dover Lane when, with much trepidation I approached him as I wished to apply for the post of lecturer in English in St. Xavier’s College in 1969. I have not heard of him providing such a certificate to other students of his—perhaps they dared not ask! I guess my Xaverian brashness led me on to enter where betters dared not tread.
After graduating with Honours in English from St. Xavier’s College, when I wanted to join the Calcutta University’s M.A. course in 1966, I found that it was possible to be enrolled through Presidency College. As a Xaverian, I had been brought up on a staple diet of the impossibility of anyone but a Presidencian attaining the dizzy heights of a first class in English. The cold, hard truth of it had been brought home when that summit eluded me by two marks in Part-I and a single mark in Part-II. I was, therefore, intensely curious to find out what made the English Department of this college so very special.
I found myself the solitary “outsider” in a class consisting of four ladies [Chitrita Banerjee, later a well-known author, Indrani Chaudhuri, Anjushree Ghosh, both became lecturers subsequently, and Sunipa Basu, who joined the Indian Customs & Excise Service] and two men [Arya Gupta and Gautam Basu], all native Presidencians. I grit my teeth and was determined to stick on despite the fulminations of Dr. Amalendu Bose, the Sir Gooroodas Banerjee Professor and Head of the English Department of the Calcutta University, who demanded to know what was so wonderful in “that college” that I enrolled in it. The answer was obvious. What a galaxy of luminaries taught us: Dr. Sailen Sen, Prof. Amal Bhattacharjee, Dr. Kajal Sengupta, AKDG (Prof. Arun Kumar Das Gupta— Tarak Babu’s “onlie true begetter”) and Prof. Ashoke Mukherjee. Above them all was Prof. T.N. Sen himself: lanky, tall, appearing almost spectre-like as the shades fell when his classes began, going on well into the dark, teasing out every little nuance of Shakespeare and Yeats. Amal Babu’s remarkably clear explication of T.S. Eliot’s complicated The Sacred Wood inspired my first book. AKDG took up Timon of Athens, turning a minor play into a major experience. S.K. Sen took us through Shakespearean criticism with classically structured deliberation. Kajal-di handled Chaucer with scintillating brilliance, communicating her delight in “The Nonnes Priestes Tale” unforgettably. Prof. Ashoke Mukherjee taught Browning’s “Dramatic Monologues” in his inimitable “Do you follow?” fashion.
Much to my surprise I found Prof. Sen usually referred to as “Tarak Babu” (in St. Xavier’s College we weren’t used to anything but “Mr.” or “professor” for our teachers). He began our classes with a devastating statement delivered in his characteristic sibilant whisper: “If you have come to get the M.A. degree of Calcutta University, it is of no use as it is not worth the paper it is printed on.” Over the next eight weeks he dictated to us an elaborate bibliography paper by paper, dividing it into three categories marked “M” for ‘must read’, “D” for ‘desirable’ and “O” for ‘optional’. A more comprehensive reading list spanning the entire gamut of English Literature I have yet to come across. I used it later when teaching literature in St. Xavier’s College, distributing it to my students as an invaluable resource to be passed on.
As Tarak Babu took up Yeats’ poems on Byzantium I came to realise the vast gulf separating the University teaching from his. The charismatic Prof. P. Lal completed the Byzantium poems in two lectures, one for each; Tarak Babu took eight. The richness of that experience cannot be communicated in words. During this time I noticed a first year fresher poring over a tome in the library where Tarak Babu’s classes were held in a cubicle. It was Indrani’s younger brother, Sukanta Chaudhuri, subsequently a Shakespearean scholar of international renown. He was looking at Leonardo da Vinci’s “Madonna of the rocks” that Tarak Babu had asked him to examine, possibly in the context of Rossetti’s “The Blessed Damosel” (or was it Renaissance poetry?). That is how literature was taught by him, interlinking it with art, leading the student to explore and develop his own insights.
And then he started on “King Lear”. What a wealth of insight he held out to the eight of us (Kasturi Gupta, our senior, joined these classes too and insists it was “Othello”)! The approach was intensely textual, concentrating on extracting the last drop of meaning from every single verse. Indrani Shome, who had graduated from Presidency, used to regale me with accounts of how Tarak Babu’s teaching of “Macbeth” sent shivers up her spine in the witches’ scenes, with his long lanky arms snaking about and how the ladies were taken home in police vans for their safety when classes went on into the dark hours in those Naxalite terror times. Gautam Basu—ardent left extremist who switched loyalties to join the IAS—was a treasure trove of anecdotes, sending us into peals of helpless hilarity with his account of Tarak Babu’s ghost springing out from behind a Presidency pillar as AKDG performed the funeral obsequies, hissing, “Short line! Short line! Action needed! Ghee dao, ghee!” (Tarak Babu’s paper on “Shakespeare’s Short Lines” is a major contribution to understanding Shakespeare’s art and craft).
I remember his setting me a tutorial assignment on Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock”. True to Xaverian tradition, I put into my essay all the critical insights available from various “eminent critics”, only to be told in a sibilant undertone that I was expected not to reproduce others’ views but my own. I grit my teeth, slogged away and resubmitted my tutorial. My exercise book was returned with just one remark that left me crestfallen and considerably puzzled: “This will do”. When I asked my class-mates, they enlightened me that this meant I had achieved the expected standard. That was truly a crowning success for an outsider! This was followed by a bonus: he appointed me Secretary to the English Seminar, putting me in charge of its excellent library.
At the end of two years I found to my complete surprise that I had been placed first in the first class, with Anjushree following. And, in the paper on Romantic and Victorian poetry I had won a medal. The tradition of only Presidencians topping the Calcutta University had been broken—thanks to the unforgettable tutelage of Professor Tarak Nath Sen and his team of colleagues, the likes of whom we will not see again.
- Ruskin’s Unto this Last: A Critical Edition. Alpha Publishing, Calcutta. 1969.
- T.S. Eliot’s The Sacred Wood: A Dissertation. Calcutta. 1969; 2nd ed. Bharati Bhawan, Patna. 1995.
- Government of West Bengal’s Manual of Protocol & Ceremonials. Calcutta. 1976.
- Karttikeya. Amar Chitra Katha comics. English, Hindi, Bengali. Bombay. 1981.
- The Monkey Prince. Adarsh Chitra Katha English, Hindi. New Delhi. 1983.
- Secret of the Mahabharata. Parimal Prakashan, 1984.
- I.R.D.P. Guide Book. Guidebook. Bengali. Murshidabad. 1984. 2 edns.
- Proceedings of Workshop-cum-Conference on Co-operative Functioning. West Bengal State Cooperative Union, Calcutta. 1985.
- The Unknown Ashoka. The Heritage magazine, Madras, 1987.
- Themes & Structure in the Mahabharata. Dasgupta & Co., Calcutta. 1989.
- Bankimchandra Chatterjee’s Krishna Charitra. P. Birla Foundation, Calcutta. 1991. The first English translation from Bengali.
- Shivaji Sawant’s Mrityunjaya: A Long Critique. Writers Workshop, Calcutta, 1991.
- The Mahabharata TV film Script: A Long Critique. Writers Workshop, 1991.
- Ed. Lt. Col. G.L. Bhattacharya’s Krishna of the Gita. Writers Workshop, Calcutta. 1993.
- Pratibha Ray’s Yajnaseni: the story of Draupadi. Rupa, New Delhi, 1995. The first English translation.
- Human Values: The Tagorean Panorama (with Dr. S.K. Chakraborty). New Age International, New Delhi. 1996. The first English translation from Bengali.
- Ed. Sri Aurobindo & The Mother: Right Attitude to Work & The Right Spirit. Govt. of W.B., Calcutta. 1997; 2nd ed. 2005; 3rd ed. 2012.
- Ed. Manual of Refugee Relief & Rehabilitation, 2 vols. Govt. of W.B., Calcutta. 1998.
- Ed. Annual Administration Report, 1997-98, Refugee Relief & Rehabilitation Dept. Govt. of West Bengal. Calcutta. 1998.
- Subodh Ghosh’s Bharat Prem Katha. Rupa, 1998. The first English translation from Bengali.
- Ed. Handbook of Valuation, Central Valuation Board, West Bengal.
- Ed. Annual Administration Report, 1998-2000, Sunderban Affairs Dept., Govt. of West Bengal. Calcutta. 2000.
- Leadership & Power: Ethical Insights (with Dr. S.K. Chakraborty). OUP, New Delhi. 2001.
- Prachin Bharatey ebong Mahabharatey Netritva O Kshamatar Byabahar (with S.K. Sen) Bengali. Dasgupta & Co., Calcutta. 2002. Translation from English.
- Ed. Annual Administration Reports 2000-2002, 2002-03, Consumer Affairs Dept., Govt. of West Bengal. Calcutta. 2003.
- Ed. Manual of Legal Metrology, Govt. of West Bengal. Calcutta. 2005.
- Ed. Consumer Handbook. Consumer Affairs Dept., Govt. of W.B., Calcutta. 2005.
- Parashuram’s Puranic Tales for Cynical People (with S.K. Sen). Indialog, New Delhi. 2005. Translated from Bengali.
- Love Stories from the Mahabharata. Indialog, New Delhi. 2005. Translation from Subodh Ghosh’s Bengali.
- Pancha Kanya: the five virgins of India’s Epics—a Quest in search of Meaning. Writers Workshop, Calcutta. 2005.
- Ed. Administrative Training Institute Monographs 1-20. Kolkata. 2005-9.
- Ed. Revisiting the Panchakanyas—proceedings of a national seminar. Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre, Kolkata. 2007.
- Edited Samsad Series on Public Administration. Kolkata, 2007-8.
- The Appu Papers
- W.B. Services and Financial Rules and Office Procedure
- Dimensions of Law and Order Administration
- Inspections and Tours
- District Administration: Changes and Challenges
- Crisis of Governance by P.S. Appu
- Ed. Manual on Training of Trainers for Human Development by Dr. A. Ghosh. ATI, Kolkata. 2008.
- Ed. The Jaiminiya Ashvamedhaparva by Maj. Gen. S.K. Sen VSM. Writers Workshop, Kolkata. 2009. The first verse-by-verse English translation from Sanskrit.
- Narrative Art in the Mahabharata—the Adi Parva. Dev Publishers & Distributors, New Delhi. 2012.
- The Mahabharata of Vyasa: The Complete Mokshadharma Parva, translated from the Sanskrit, Writers Workshop, Kolkata, 2016. This is the first sloka-by-sloka translation in verse and prose.
- The Jaiminiya Mahabharata: Mairavanacaritam and Sahasramukharavanacaritam, A Critical Edition, with sloka-by-sloka verse translation, National Mission for Manuscripts & New Bharatiya Book Agency, New Delhi, 2017.
- Kabi Sanjay’s Mahabharata, the first Bengali Mahabharata translated verse-by-verse into English verse, Das Gupta & Co. Kolkata 2019.
- Edited “X“, the first Eng-Beng minimag, 1968-71.
- “Wordsworth the Kavi,” a bicentennial tribute, Journal of the Department of English, Calcutta University. Reprinted in Mother India.
- Associate Editor, 20 Points: Nadia (1976).
- The Administrator, quarterly journal of the L. B. S. National Academy of Administration, Govt. of India, 1980-83.
- Associate Editor, The Service, journal of the I.A.S. Association, West Bengal, (1986-88).
- Case Studies on relief work in Bangladesh and various facets of district administration in The Administrator and The Statesman.
- “Indus Valley Civilization” in Dravidian Encyclopaedia vol.1 (International School of Dravidian Linguistics, Thiruvananthapuram, 1990). Articles on Harappan Civilization in Puratattva, journal of the Indian Archaeological Society, The Book Review, The Administrator and on new light on ancient Indian history in the K. D. Sethna Festschrift (Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry1994.)
- Articles on Transactional Analysis in TASI Darshan (journal of the T. A. Society of India), The Administrator, Actualiatesen Analyse Transactionelle (journal of the European T.A. Association) and in TAJ (journal of the International T. A. Association, USA).
- Articles on civil service training in Bhandar (journal of the West Bengal Co-operative Union), HRD: International Perspectives on Development & Learning (ed. M. Jones & P. Mann, Kumarian Press, USA); Indian Journal of Public Administration.
- Articles on comparative mythology in Indian Railways, Indian Literature, The Heritage, India International Centre Quarterly, Mother India, Xaverian Literary Treasury, Shatapatra, Vyasa’s Mahabharata: Creative Insights (ed. Padma Sri Prof. P. Lal, 2 volumes), The Statesman, Indian Review of Books, Indian Book Chronicle, The Book Review, BIBLIO, PURANA, Journal of the Asiatic Society, Journal of South Asian Literature (Michigan State University), International Journal of Hindu Studies, PARABOLA, South Asia.
- Articles on Values in Management in Human Values for Managers (ed. Dr. S.K. Chakraborty. Wheeler, New Delhi, 1995), Liberalised Economy & Quality of Life (ed. Dr. Subir Chowdhury & Prof. Nikhil Barat. Association of Indian Management Schools, 1995), Sri Aurobindo Mandir Annual 1995, Journal of Human Values, Mother India, Advent.
- “A spiritual viewpoint” in WHO’s Round Table on the “Renewal of the Health-for-All Strategy”, World Health Forum, 17, 1996 (the only Indian selected for contributing to this discussion).
Parents: Lt. Col. Gunindra Lal Bhattacharya, B.Sc., MA, LL.B and Suprobhat Bhattacharya nee Chatterjee, MA, B.T. Lt. Col. Bhattacharya, Corps of Signals (1942), served in the XIV Army in World War II and suffered solitary imprisonment in East Pakistan 1961-64 after being shot and abducted. He fought his own cases against the Pakistan Government in their Supreme Court which created sensation.
Education: Schooling in St. Lawrence High School, Calcutta, 1955–63.
- Graduated with Honours in English from St. Xavier’s College, first in the college and 4th in Calcutta University (1966).
- A. (English) from Presidency College, 1968, first class first, Calcutta University; awarded gold and silver medals and cash prizes.
- B. (Prely.) University College of Law, Calcutta University, first class. Completed the degree course.
- German Language Certificate, Max Muller Bhawan, Calcutta, first in the first division.
- The only candidate awarded the Post-Graduate Diploma in Public Service Training with Distinction, Manchester University, 1983.
- Certified Scholar (Homeopathy), Grace Medical Mission Kerala; M.D. (Homeopathy), Premier Homeopathic College, Chandigarh.
- D. in Comparative Literature on “Narrative Art in the Mahabharata” from the Netaji Subhash Open University.
- The sole Indian awardee of the International Human Resource Development Fellowship by Manchester University and the Institute for Training & Development, U.K. in 1989, the year it was instituted, and invited to address the World Training Conference in London. The citation states: “Mr Bhattacharya’s designation as an International HRD Fellow is indeed an honour to him and the IAS, for it recognises the outstanding contribution that he is making to the achievement of professional excellence in human resource development.”
- The only Indian selected to contribute a paper to WHO’s Round Table on the “Renewal of the health-for-all strategy” published in World Health Forum, vol. 17, 1996.
- The sole third world representative to address the 1983 National Conference of the Institute of Transactional Analysis, U.K. in London.
- Founding Vice President of THE OSKARS a new-wave theatre group in Calcutta.
- Revived the British Council Play-Reading Group, Calcutta.
- Founding editor, “X”, the first English-Bengali mini-magazine.
- The only officer selected twice to lead, from inception, World Bank Projects (viz. upgrading of Industrial Training Institutes and the Bank’s largest intervention in the health sector—the State Health Systems Development Project-II).
- Twice elected Member of the Board of trustees, Transactional Analysis Society of India (TASI); accredited Basic T.A. Trainer by TASI; Founding Chairperson, TASI Calcutta Chapter.
- Elected Executive Committee Member of the I.A.S. Association, West Bengal several times and served as its Honorary Secretary,
- Government of West Bengal’s longest serving nominee on the Board of Governors, I.I.M. Calcutta 1993-2002; 2005-contd.
- The Provincial’s nominee on the Managing Committee, St. Xavier’s Collegiate School, Calcutta, for several years till 1996.
- Guest faculty in the L.B.S. National Academy of Administration for courses on Ethics in Administration and in the Management Centre for Human Values of I.I.M. Calcutta.
- Selected by the Sahitya Akademi as a judge to choose the best English translation for the year.
- Government of West Bengal’s nominee on the Board of Governors of I.I.M. Calcutta for over 15 years.
- Served on the Editorial Board of IIMC’s Journal of Human Values (SAGE) and of MANUSHI.
- Was Regional Editor (East) for the Mahabharata Encyclopaedia Project of the Mahabharata Samshodhana Pratishthanam, Bangalore, funded by the Ministry of HRD, Govt. of India.
- Member of the governing board of the Rabindranath Tagore Centre for Human Values set up by Ambuja Realty in May 2011 to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Tagore. Taught a 30 hour credit course on India’s Epics and Puranas for the M.A. in Human Values course of the Netaji Subhas Open University.
- Initiated a Regional Mahabharatas Documentation Project by the Indira Gandhi National Centre of Arts, New Delhi, under the Ministry of Culture, Government of India.
- Chaired sessions and presented papers in several international and national seminars on the Mahabharata organised by the Sahitya Akademi, IGNCA, MANUSHI and the Department of Sanskrit, Bombay University.
- Lectured in English at St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta, 1969-71, organising the first inter-collegiate seminars on English Literature.
- Joined the Indian Administrative Service in 1971. Relief work in Rajshahi District, Bangladesh, 1972, resettling several thousand evacuees.
- Radically remodelled the training of IAS probationers, posting them as BDOs for the first time in 1974-75.
- Drafted Agriculture Department’s orders vesting supervisory and coordinating powers over all extension officials in BDOs.
- Established the Directorate of Homeopathy in Govt. of West Bengal, 1975.
- Wrote Government of West Bengal’s first Manual of Protocol and Ceremonials, a standard reference work since then.
- Twice acted as “One-man Enquiry Committee” into problems of Government of West Bengal’s premier hospital, SSKM Hospital.
- Carried out cadre review of the armed forces and Defence Lands & Cantonment Service, Government of India, 1979.
- Deputy Director, National Academy of Administration, Govt. of India, 1979-83, training the All-India and Allied services.
- District Magistrate & Collector of Murshidabad 1982-83; commended by Govt. of India for the outstanding work done under IRDP for poverty alleviation.
- As Registrar of Co-operative Societies, West Bengal, organised a workshop-cum conference on the functioning of co-operatives that was acclaimed “a unique learning experiment” by the International Co-operative Alliance and the Govt. of West Bengal.
- As Managing Director of the W.B. Tourism Development Corporation made unprecedented earnings for the languishing organization.
- As Chairman, Central Valuation Board, computerised the calculation of taxes for urban holdings, tripling the tax base of municipalities.
- As Secretary, Municipal Affairs, drafted legislation in West Bengal in the context of the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments, setting up the State Election Commission, the District Planning Committees, the Metropolitan Planning Committee, several Municipal Corporations and finalised the West Bengal Municipal Act, 1993.
- As Director, Administrative Training Institute, West Bengal, radically remodelled the training content and style and published a Handbook of Service and Financial Rules and several training monographs and case-study volumes.
- The only officer selected for leading from inception two World Bank projects [for modernising Industrial Training Institutes in West Bengal (1989-91) and the Bank’s largest intervention in the health sector, a Rs. 710 crore project for West Bengal (1996-97)].
- Edited & published the first comprehensive Manual of Refugee Relief and Rehabilitation in 2 vols.
- Drafted Government of West Bengal’s orders setting up public grievance and assistance offices in all districts and constituting a Working Group on increasing efficiency in government functioning and introducing E-governance.
- As Commissioner of Presidency and Burdwan Divisions held inspections for the first time since 1974, computerised processing of land acquisition cases resulting in considerable savings, got all Collectorates cleaned up, persuaded Government to revise the ACR format of WBCS officers incorporating objective-setting and evaluation.
- In Consumer Affairs introduced on-line grievance handling, bringing all three wings under one roof in all districts, both for the first time anywhere in India, which was acclaimed by the Govt. of India.
- Revised the B. Secretariat Manual and the Rules of Business. Drafted the state government rules under the Central Right to Information Act.
- Served in Land Reforms, Home, Finance (Jt. Secy. Audit and Banking, and as Director Staff Inspection Unit), Health, Tourism, Labour, Technical Education & Training, Municipal Affairs, Refugee Relief & Rehabilitation, Food Processing Industries & Horticulture, Sunderban Affairs, Consumer Affairs, Development & Planning.
- Retired as Additional Chief Secretary to the Government of West Bengal in charge of Development & Planning and Director of the Administrative Training Institute (2 tenures).
T.S. Eliot: The Sacred Wood–A Dissertation
- “I have read your work on The Sacred Wood carefully and enjoyed reading it…I myself think that this is an excellent commentary.” Amalendu Bose, D. Phil. (Oxon.), F.I.A.L., Sir Gooroodas Banerjee Professor & Head, Department of English, Calcutta University.
- “I have gone through your work with much interest and have been much impressed by your methodical exposition and your very clear analysis of Eliot’s thought. This is what critical appraisal and analysis should rest on; otherwise criticism, however good, so easily passes into myth for the next generations which their successor have in turn to pull down. Thank you very much for giving the opportunity to see your worth.” T.G.P. Spear, Fellow, Selwyn College, Cambridge University.
- An extraordinarily well-informed, sympathetic and useful dissertation…In fact, for the general reader this is probably the best organised book on Eliot’s criticism, the appendices being products of much thought and sensitivity. Mr. Bhattacharya has five topics that will be specially useful to university students…It is encouraging to see an alert mind not unafraid to tell off grey eminences like Sean Lucy, Eliseo Vivas and Kristian Smidt where they seem to go wrong in their understanding of Eliot’s meanings. Mr. Bhattacharya’s work is not, as most books of this nature are, a re-hash of available material on the subject. There is much original thinking in it–and many new viewpoints on clichéd areas. For instance, Watson apart, no one has so far explained the title of the book. Mr. Bhattacharya suggests that this is sacred grove at Nemi near Rome…Eliot’s murderer in ‘the bloody wood’ has not yet appeared on the scene; and acolytes of Mr. Pradip Bhattacharya’s devotion will not doubt prevent the guru’s stiff shroud from being dishonoured.” Padma Shri P. Lal in The Hindusthan Standard.
- A valuable little book…very useful, totally unpretentious and well written. Your power of concentration on the subject is admirable. With your writing ability you will, I feel, turn in due course to other subjects and authors as well, both old and new.” A. N. Kaul, Head, Department of English, Delhi University.
- “I have read (it) with interest and profit. Sri Bhattacharya’s writing shows a good deal of critical penetration and intelligent understanding of complex and difficult ideas of a book which still remains a basic work on modern criticism. I am particularly impressed with Sri Bhattacharya’s wide reading in Eliot’s prose and poetry and in the large Eliot literature. The dissertation gives a careful and minute analysis of the major chapters of the book and follows up with a series of appendices of a more general nature, all bearing on Eliot’s fundamental ideas. These show a critical maturity which is rare indeed. In spite of its modest compass the book will be of great help not only to students but to those also who are interested in Mr. Eliot’s work as poet and critic.” Amal Bhattacharji, Head, Department of English, Presidency College, Calcutta.
- “It is thoughtful and well written and I have read it with pleasure and profit. Indeed, I am happy to congratulate the young author. He deserves everyone’s congratulations.” S.K. Sen, Professor & Head, Department of English, Presidency College, Calcutta.
- “I have read it with interest and delight. I feel this is a notable contribution to the study of T.S. Eliot’s most important literary essays…Mr. Bhattacharya’s book will not only be of great assistance to students new to Eliot’s criticism; it is sure to prove a refreshing and stimulating work even for old readers of Eliot. I hope to see more work of the same order from our young author.” Sujata Chaudhuri, Principal & Head, Department of English, Lady Brabourne College, Calcutta.
Ruskin’s Unto This Last: A Critical Edition
- “Pride of Bookmarks’ place to a finely annotated edition of Ruskin’s Unto This Last…the book, which has long introduction and careful notes, is excellent value.” Padma Sri P. Lal, The Hindusthan Standard.
The Secret of the Mahabharata
- Churning of the Ocean: “Pradip Bhattacharya is not only an able administrator…but an erudite scholar. In the present work, he has delved into some of the most revolting (apparently) episodes of the Mahabharata, and tried to explain their deep moral/spiritual significance…No doubt, all this is interesting and thought-provoking and probably hints at the true import of the myth in the “ Dr. H. D. Sankalia, The Times of India.
- Message in the Myth: “Pradip Bhattacharya’s work is an erudite and important study of Vedic spiritual messages and symbols as transmitted and popularised through the Mahabharata myths & stories…The analysis is essentially dialectical in mode and principle…The logic involved is not formal-rational but dialectical-esoteric. An excellent work.” Subir Das Gupta, The Telegraph.
- Vyasa & the Vedic Secret: “A brilliant analysis of Vyasa’s myths in terms of Vedic truths comes as a fresh corroboration of the validity of the integral approach… It is delightful to see the author reads correctly the message of Vyasa…with a marvellous sweep from Veda to Savitri…Shri Bhattacharya’s scholarship has an eye and ear for the mystic, which is the essential pre-requisite for a researcher in Indology… After going through the 155 pages of his book, one is convinced that the Mahabharata is a unique time-capsule invented by Vyasa the Veda–the Grand Synthesis–is preserved for posterity.” Gauri Dharmapal, The Statesman, Mother India and Srinvantu.
- The technique the author adopts to discover the secret meaning is indeed a Herculean task. Since the Mantras reveal their innermost secret only to an intuitive mind, Bhattacharya with little difficulty attains success…the fruit of a decade of intensive study of the epic…(his) arguments are very convincing and his discoveries open up new vistas in the Hindu epic lore. Certainly the seeker after spiritual truth cannot afford to ignore this book which is a consummate scholarly piece of work written with verve and style.” P. Raja, Mother India.
- The Impact Eternal–Lights from the Great Epic: “An equally noteworthy addition to the Mahabharata lore by a senior member of the Indian Administrative Service who is basically a serious scholar…The author chooses some of the episodes in the epic and discovers the truths underlying the story elements. He performs his complex task ably, mostly with the help of Sri Aurobindo’s Vedic Glossary compiled by A. B. Purani.” Manoj Das, The Heritage.
- “I read your book on the Mahabharata and enjoyed it greatly. More than anything, it showed a deep and moving comprehension of the symbols, something experienced rather than simply quoted…after reading your book I feel like doing a story of the ‘Earings’…Thank you for the experience your book afforded me.” Maggi Lidchi Grassi, internationally renowned novelist.
- “I am impressed by your perceptive scholarship and find your analysis of the subject interesting. I agree with many of your conclusions.” P. Pandit, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry.
Themes & Structure in the Mahabharata: the Adi Parva
- Journey to the Centre of an Epic: “A quality of the treatise that stands out is the manner in which the scholar dishes out information, knitting them together with both relevance and order…If (certain) elements sometimes intrigue an average reader of the epic, Bhattacharya views them in a wider perspective and establishes their justification… While commenting on certain issues Bhattacharya recreates the stories behind them and does so with beauty and restraint, making cogent references to sources to sources outside the Mahabharata whenever appropriate. He shows, through arguments, cross-references to characters and events and drawing our attention to the totality of the Mahabharata are more meaningful than meets the eye. He has followed a method which he expects would let the epic ‘as it were, to grow on the reader’. No doubt he succeeds in this.” Manoj Das, The Statesman.
- Far Beyond the Idiot Box: “Pradip Bhattacharya’s illuminating book is a welcome addition to modern work on our national epic…It has obviously been a labour of love—Bhattacharya’s commitment and devotion are apparent in each page of his analysis… (he) deserves all congratulations for providing answers…he has pegged the Mahabharata squarely within an international framework of comparative literature and universal appeal. (His) method is painstaking… He searches for meaning, layer within layer. Thus we find him meticulously splitting hairs with a very definite purpose—the drawing out of nuances and variations of emphasis… Particularly impressive is (his) capacity for underlining the tongue-in-cheek humour in the Mahabharata, which most commentators are too solemn to note…Another service the commentator performs is to highlight those verses which once heard ring for ever in our ears…The book is not for cursory reading. It represents hours of solid study and requires to be approached in a similar spirit. The author deserves all praise for his application in the midst of the pressures of his working life far removed from academic cloisters.” Ketaki Datta, Business Standard.
- Vyasa Nodding & Critic Napping: “this enthralling book…One does not very often come across a work of such elegance and depth. Bhattacharya’s prose is effortless and beautiful… He has established his firm control over the language even in the poetic form while transcreating some slokas…extremely well-informed commentary…has continuously endeavoured to establish some kind of continuity, remove irrelevance, apparent or otherwise, establish the logicality of seemingly meaningless words and episodes with tremendous research… He presents very interesting social and cultural concepts prevalent within that frame of reference… (he) has made it a point to mention and pinpoint all the Vedic concepts in the epic whenever they occur in the course of narrative…The basic characteristic of the book is the brilliant of incidents which is very clearly the results of extensive research…He has introduced touches of humour too, which, in combination with his erudition and skill with language, has made the book eminently readable…He has also done the stupendous task of connecting far-related incidents…consequently the reader obtains a clear, logical, intelligible and sane picture of the very involved and confused panorama of the ..(he) has provided for fun time too…There are so many pieces of interesting information that one is amazed…a genealogical chart and a map…are two of the best points of the book. Thematic analysis and highlighting have made (the book) an experience of a special kind…The book leaves one with a feeling of joy and satisfaction…(he) has analysed the characters and incidents with consummate skill and dedication and provided an unforgettable insight into the greatest story of the tragedy of man. He has done this service only for the first parva. There are seventeen more. Here is hoping that we shall hear from him again, soon, on these.” Maj. Gl. S.K. Sen, VSM, Vyasa’s Mahabharata: Creative Insights, Vol. 1. ed. Padma Shri Prof. P. Lal (Writers Workshop, Calcutta).
- Vyasan Alap: “A commendable effort to analysis the alap–the baffling nebulous mass of material with which the epic begins…bringing out (the) central theme of each of the subparvas…poetic breath is retained in translation. He also injects a bit of Comparative Mythology…His sub-titling…shows more vividly the connecting links…(they) become a condensed commentary, or rather sutras, to comprehend the Adi Parva…the author (is) a successful explorer of symbolism…He analyses each section and gives his comments. Dhritarashtra’s psychoanalysis from his famous lament is excellent…(His) observations are insights what really help us to get glimpse of the Vyasan Vision and Master’s mastery of his epic art in all its nuances. He helps the reader to to comprehend the web of inter-connections…He also points out similarities with the other epic ..He gives parallels from European literature of characters, themes, expressions etc. which add a taste of comparative literature and thus widen our field of vision…The study is lit up with humour at places…Vyasa’s humour is also noted. He delightfully follows the Indian habit of chanting out a couplet by way of comment even in a serious critical work. Thanks are due to Bhattacharya for displaying to us some intricate fabrics of the gigantic pattern that is the Mahabharata and giving us another opportunity to breath-in the refreshing air of great poetry, blowing away the monotony of life and opening up a Cosmic Panorama before which all pettiness vanishes.” Dr. Gauri Dharampal, Mother India, The Statesman, Srinvantu.
- “Most striking…is the effortless way in which he moves back and forth from ancillary material to the Bharata story…it yields gems of insight about thematic congruence that seem to echo throughout the epic narrative.” Dr Barbara Gombach, doctoral dissertation, Columbia University.
Bankimchandra Chatterjee’s Krishna Charitra
- “Pradip Bhattacharya and M. P. Birla Foundation deserve the gratitude of all the serious students of the Mahabharata. The translation is almost word-perfect…He has been able to capture the flow and the difficult and complicated syntax used by Bankim…very successfully captured that distinguishing atmosphere that is essentially Bankim…The introduction contains some interesting information hitherto little-known…The Bibliography…is very exhaustive…This work of translation is a production of very high order. The printing, the binding, the get-up etc. are excellent.” Maj. Gen. S.K. Sen, Vyasa’s Mahabharata: Creative Insights, Vol. 2, ed. Padma Shri Prof. P. Lal (Writers Workshop), The Statesman.
- “Truly meritorious translation…It is no routine exercise, but a labour of love and dedication.” K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar.
- “I am very glad to have this important translation in my library…what I have checked seems excellent.” Julius Lipner, Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge.
- “Bhattacharya, a noted scholar on the Mahabharata with several works on the subject to his credit, certainly accomplishes a fine translation of a difficult work… But what is more, he enriches the work in the light of research subsequent to Bankimchandra’s… He also provides in the Appendix notes on references to works and persons left unannotated by Bankimchandra as well as English rendering of Sanskrit verses the author quoted only in their original.” Manoj Das, The Hindu.
- “The style is racy and invigorating, facilitating understanding of the original essay…The abstruse Indian ontology propounded by Bankim has been lucidly and elegantly conveyed.” Debal Kr. Chakravarti, Vyasa’s Mahabharata: Creative Insights,Vol. 2, ed. Padma Shri Prof. P. Lal (Writers Workshop, Calcutta).
- “A monumental work…I do not think that anybody working on Mahabharata or Lord Krishna can afford to neglect this work…Publication and printing is flawless and matches to the standards of the contents of the book. The M. P. Birla Foundation deserves congratulations.” Jodh Singh, Head, Department of Religious Studies, Punjabi University, The Journal of Religious Studies.
- “excellent translation”. Hans Harder, Universität Halle, Germany.
A Long Critique on “MRITYUNJAYA”
(Shivaji Sawant’s novel was awarded the Moorti Devi Puraskar by Bharatiya Jnanpith. This Critique was published in Marathi as well.)
- Karna is the hero: “The discussion on Shivaji Sawant’s Mrityunjaya will remain incomplete if in this context another work is not referred to. The critique written on Mrityunjaya by a Calcutta civilian Pradip Bhattacharya IAS has behind it not only his own research on the Mahabharata but also the two Hindi and English translations of Mrityunjaya. He has examined Shivaji’s Karna differs from Sawant’s Karna, where Shivaji has departed from facts to establish the greatness and sublimity of his creation, Karna, nothing has escaped Bhattacharya’s eye. Still, he remains an admirer of Sawant’s genius…Bhattacharya’s scholarly critique has brought the hapless Karna even closer to us.” Neeta Sen Samarth,
- “Pradip Bhattacharya brings to the difficult if fascinating task the resources indicated in his The Secret of the Mahabharata and Themes & Structure in the Mahabharata: Adi Parva…it leaves one with a feeling of joy and satisfaction.” K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar, The Hindu.
- “This is the real microscopic literary valuation of Mrityunjaya. My heartiest congratulations with thanks to him. Here he has taken a deep dive like the author into the character of Karna. He has suggested some very essential corrections… done full justice to the magnum opus literary creation.” Shivaji Sawant, author of
- Echoes of the Epic: “a welcome venture…an estimate at once objective and highly readable, Bhattacharya’s scholarship on the Mahabharata being commendable and his study of Sawant’s work being sincere…The critic has done well by pointing out a couple of errors made by the translators.” Manoj Das, The Hindu.
- “Highly incisive, critical yet objective critique.” Subramanian, Pratibha India.
The Mahabharata TV Film Script–A Long Critique
- “A brilliant critique. His assessment of the ten volumes is certainly most enlightening and puts the entire work in proper perspective.” Satish Bhatnagar, translator of the Hindi script into English.
- “I feel particularly obliged for your very enlightening critique (and) in-depth study of Mahabharata…all praise for the highly intellectual display of critical excellence…Your critique on the serial was really a masterpiece of writing… heartfelt thanks for the contribution you have made to books on Mahabharata.” B. R. Chopra, noted film-maker & producer of the tele-epic.
- Mythology—A Contemporary Appropriation: “Bhattacharya goes to great pains to chronicle these departures (from the epic) bringing to bear his considerable scholarship in this area… Both Reza and Bhattacharya are believers in the feminine cause…With Reza and Bhattacharya the Kunti-Draupadi-Gandhari triumvirate emerges from the no less resplendent than the Arjuna-Karna-Bhima trio, an yang-yin balance which enhances the impact of the epic… Bhattacharya here goes the entire distance in secularising the epic…If Bhattacharya after Bankim Chandra is more concerned with Krishna as Purushottama, Reza is occupied with showing Krishna as Magi not Magic. The end result in both cases is a character more suited for secular absorption.” Champak Chatterjee IAS, The Indian Book Chronicle & in Vyasa’s Mahabharata: Creative Insights, Vol. 2, Padma Shri Prof. P. Lal.
- Is anybody listening? “Pradip Bhattacharya’s review, in many ways, is much more than a review. It is an independent work that throws a lot of intimate insights into the mysteries of the epic. He has given his own interpretation, besides, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of Reza’s presentation and those of the English translation. Consequently, what we have in the 10th volume is a work of art that not only has incisive criticism, but also creative insights that give us much more than what we have in the script. Reza has thrown up many ideas on values and PB has dexterously fielded them, enriching his observations with his characteristic expertise. Those important aspects of the Mahabharata which Reza should have included but did not and those aspects that Reza has included but has blundered are pinpointed with ruthless precision and exposed in razor-sharp clarity… The nicest thing about it is that there is no exhibitionism, no pomposity of the pseudo-intellectual, but the simplicity of a mind rich in incisive wisdom that is born out of a comprehensive assimilation of available literature… PB has an excellent discussion on the similarity of the principal female characters and the concept of eternal virginity…we get information not commonly known…His discussion of lust being the nemesis of the Paurava Dynasty is one important contribution…he startlingly reveals that it was Dharma who protected Draupadi, not Krishna. He gives us a hint that the entire episode of vastraharana is an interpolation. PB effectively brings out Krishna’s political acumen… PB’s discussion of the Sishupala incident is significant in dispelling the myth of Bhishma’s unquestioned supremacy (and) for the demystification of Krishna’s superhuman Halo… PB introduces the Kalpataru concept but unfortunately does not elaborate… But his discussion on the Karna-Kunti relationship provides perhaps the most interesting analysis of a much-talked about incident of the Mahabharata…PB has very sensitively brought out an expose on Dharma as spoken by various characters…he has been able to, very effectively, garnish his review with quotations and discussions from authors…He has also quoted parallel situations from European mythology and literature…We also find evidence of his expertise in this field (of Transactional Analysis) in his work…PB has also brought in modern day parallels…these, too, have added a freshness to the work and brought in a touch of contemporaneity…a superb work of penmanship.” Gen. S.K. Sen VSM, Vyasa’s Mahabharata: Creative Insights Vol. 2 (ed. Padma Shri Prof. P. Lal).
- “I like rehandling of old texts with changes in accents and nuances. Some of these may not be quite sound and for creative changes tributes are due. Reza deserves such a homage and your long critique pays it unreservedly. It must have taken through study and is most comprehensive.” Krishna Chaitanya.
- Epic which came to the drawing room: “Volume X has also a Critique running to about 280 pages of high class English prose which is at once a fine addition to modern Indo-Anglian English literature and an extremely fair, critical review of Rahi Masoom Reza’s monumental work in Hindi for the T.V. Serial of the …Bhattacharya’s Critique is a masterpiece of Literature by itself and it can be safely recommended for special study for students of modern mass communication schools in the English speaking world.” K. Vedamurty, The Hindu.
- A trip down the memory lane: “Pradip Bhattacharya has a brilliant epic simile to ram it (the public stripping of Draupadi) down our intelligence…truly a meaningful gift to the coming generations. In his masterly analysis of the script, (he) whirls us through the inner countries of the mind to get at the core significance of Vyasa’s epic as well as Reza’s version. In the course of a painstaking, fair and boldly critical study of Reza’s script, he brings in scores of other versions of Vyasa’s epic characters… There is a blow-by-blow comparison of Vyasa and Reza…According to PB, the very fact that an Indian Muslim has brilliantly recast the epic is a sterling validation of the universality of appeal of Rishi Vyasa’s epic…Backed by wide reading in Indian and Western literatures, Pradip ‘load every rift with ore’ in his critique. The way Reza and he have amply fulfilled Sri Aurobindo’s dream for a ‘weighty, careful and unbiased study of the work, canto by canto, passage by passage, line by line, which can alone bring us to any valuable conclusions.” Prema Nandakumar, The Hindu.
Ed. Lt. Col. G. L. Bhattacharya: Krishna of the Gita
- Living scripture & personal testament: “ P. Lal, a Gita enthusiast himself, confesses to have met his waterloo in GLB’s book out of the ordinary…we owe the present posthumous publication to the filial devotion and editorial expertise of Gunindra Lal’s son Pradip Bhattacharya, himself a writer of distinction doubled with a responsible civil servant in West Bengal. It is legitimately claimed that Krishna of the Gita is the only exegesis written by an army officer. No wonder GLB is in a sense both the subject and the commentary… GLB was to be guided by Sri Aurobindo’s exposition of the Gita itself, come to terms with it, live its Yoga and play the role of Arjuna in despondency, and listen to Bhagvan, and find solace and strength in the Lord’s words… (he) braved the worst privations…(it) invites careful study…his presence was something of a benediction to the fellow prisoners as well… For Gunindra Lal the two aims of his writing are to come to the core of the Gita’s message and to suggest a regrouping of the text of the Gita…it is a personal testament and his wide-ranging understanding has room also for the profound insights of Christianity and Islam… Once rises after reading Gunindra Lal’s book feeling more than ever certain that the Gita is truly living scripture.” Dr. K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar, The Hindu.
- Guidebook on the Gita: “a symmetrical and complementary instance of the Gita’s truth playing a redemptive role in the life of another soldier…its message proved a great source of strength…the most important concepts seem to be conserved. The author stresses the radicalism of the Gita in the bold rejection of Vedic orthodoxy…a guidebook-like text…The author’s son, Pradeep Bhattacharya, who writes the preface, has studied the epic and its inset with exceptional thoroughness.” Krishna Chaitanya, Indian Review of Books.
- Sweetness and Light: “Lt. Col. G.L. Bhattacharya who has undergone a lot of trouble, suffered anguish and imprisonment, forgets his misery by applying himself to The Gita. Krishna of the Gita is born of his intense suffering and the Col. seems to have read a lot in religious literature and his learning is sprinkled with quotations from various religious texts such as the Holy Qur’an and the Bible… Colonel’s comments on Yoga are informative as he has learnt the techniques from his study of Sri Aurobindo… Col. has dwelt extensively on this aspect of The Gita and has discussed minute details necessary for a through understanding of the text…a dependable commentary born of the author’s sadhana. It reveals the author’s erudite scholarship and catholicity of outlook.” The literary Half-Yearly (Mysore).
- Another viewpoint: “The speciality of this commentary by Lt. Col. Bhattacharya is that he has analysed Gita’s Krishna and Arjuna from a new point of view.” Moni Gangopadhyay, Ananda Bazar Patrika.
- “An intensely personal account…Here indeed one is witness to the rising of the Human Spirit over constricting and confining religious boundaries to truly catholic heights. Bhattacharya’s journey through the Gita in the company of Krishna to discern the path of Samarpan is an exercise with contrasts built into its structure. It begins with delicate precision and ends in a wanton faquir! …The appendices form a fascinating collage…The text does indeed flow like an internal dialogue, a personal missive…A superb piece of delicate artistry!…the get-up is refreshingly original.” Shashi Mishra IAS, Director General, YASHADA, Mother India.
- “Another attempt at understanding the Gita but with a difference…the book also records the profound inner transformation of the author…the metamorphosis takes place in the seclusion of an East Pakistan prison where he, a victim of an evil confinement… What sets the book apart from other commentaries is its unconventionality…he considers it is an essentially military document…brings out the relevance of the Gita in an actual battle-field situation forcefully and logically…the only commentary on the Gita written by a serving soldier…it describes the new order of Krishna very vividly… (he) provides an insight into Krishna’s three yogas which generates further insight into Krishna’s value system…(what) makes the book unique is the unconventional approach…he challenges the orthodox understanding of the Gita…interesting observation that demolishes some popular beliefs…Bhattacharya also finds a need for regrouping the verses of the Gita as the present arrangement has no true authority… There is a lovely little article in Appendix H on Prophet Mohammad…reinforces the catholicity of Bhattacharya… All in all the book provides a refreshing change from the intellectual fare that one usually comes across.” Gl. S.K. Sen VSM, Journal of Human Values.
YAJNASENI: the story of Draupadi
(Pratibha Ray’s novel won the Orissa Sahitya Akademi Award and Bharatiya Jnanpith’s Moorti Devi Puraskar 1993. The original Odiya 100th edition came out in December 2018. )
- Draupadi’s Saga: “In a language richly poetic and sensitive, which seems to have lost no beauty in translation by Pradeep Bhattacharya, Draupadi’s soul in its poetry, charm and music cries out for love.” Janaky, Indian Express.
- Of Eternal Appeal: “What we are looking into is the English translation of the famous novel by a distinguished bureaucrat belonging to the Indian Administrative Service and author of 14 published books including one on ancient Indian History and author on the ..The novel reads well in its English translation.” M. L. Varadpande, Hindustan Times.
- Celebrating womanhood: “The celebrated Oriya novel at times admirable translated by Pradip Bhattacharya.” Suresh Kohli, The Hindu.
- New Myths: “Pradip Bhattacharya’s English translation appears to be smooth.” M. Badola, The Pioneer.
- “Pradip Bhattacharya’s translation shows that Pratibha’s original Oriya must have strong and suggestive whorls of significance. Here is no doubt a welcome addition to the growing shelf of Indian literature in translation…a mesmerising picture of Draupadi who is ‘burdened with the sorrow and struggle’, the image of woman in all her yesterdays…She hits at the quintessence of womanhood…proclaims this message of integrality…” Prema Nandakumar in Mother India.
- “Nicely written and translated, it has interesting twists on the marriage.” Alf Hiltebeitel, Professor of Religion, The George Washington University, in Rethinking the Mahabharata (University of Chicago Press), p. 268.
- Amazing interpretation: “This book is beautifully written, and gets inside Draupadi’s head in a way that really endears her to you, while staying utterly true to the source material. I read another book that tried to do this, and it didn’t handle it nearly as well as Pratibha Ray has. I burned through this book in days, and now that I’m finished, I want to go back through and read it again. There are things in Draupadi’s character that are brought into better light by Ray’s writing, and it’s as if endearing an already dear friend to you. Highly recommended reading for anyone who is a fan or even casual studier of the Mahabharata.” Budgie Feather on https://www.amazon.com/Yajnaseni-Story-Draupadi-Pratibha-Ray/dp/8171673236
- “It is a story about a women’s strength, her devotion, her intelligence, her passion and above all her sacrifice in every role she played. Very beautifully written (I am sure original version must be even better).” Pratikhya Das in goodreads.com
- “One of the first and the finest books ever written from the perspective of Draupadi…One of the quotes that I shall always remember from the book: ‘Life is sacrifice from the minute you step into this world and God is your only shelter from it.’”
- “I have read 2-3 books on Draupadi and have found this the best book written on Draupadi or Yajnaseni. Have recommended this book to many of my friends.” Ashima Roy Chowdhury on amazon.com
- “Life of draupadi is beautifully portrayed… I forgot my sleep hunger everything and continued reading it… many things are there which I didn’t knew before about draupadi and pandavas… just loved it.” Lipsa on www.amazon.com
- “Fantabulous story. Very nice translation. Excellent flow. Recommended for avid readers. A collector’s choice.” Ranjith on amazon.com
- “Enjoyed the scholarship but the writing style is easy and highly readable. Recommend it highly to serious readers.” Nagasundari on www.amazon.com
Vyasa’s Mahabharata: Creative Insights (2 vols)
- “Your essays are wonderful, simply brilliant. Your review is full of lovely insights giving me insights into my insights!!” Maggi Lidchi Grassi, (internationally acclaimed novelist).
- “I feel you have been more than generous. The criticisms you have made but lend credibility to the praise…your critiques of Sawant’s and Maggi Lidchi-Grassi’s novels are very perceptive indeed.” K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar.
- “I fully agree with your critique of my colleague, John Smith’s review of the Brook Mahabharata…Sometimes western scholars study this great epic with preconceived notions.” Julius Lipner, Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge.
- “The essays by Pradip Bhattacharya and B. K. Matilal are serious, deep.” Arnab Guha, Amrita Bazar Patrika.
- “Other interesting critical work is by Pradip Bhattacharya.” Arshia Sattar, Indian Review of Books.
- “Paradoxically, it is the seemingly heavy essays of Pradip Bhattacharya that keep us glued to the book with their dramatic inputs… ‘Desire under the Kalpataru’ shows what an astute observer of the epic Pradip is, a fact seen in several other pages of the volume containing his reviews or where his views get discussed…Even a school-boy effusion in ‘What Happened to the Golden Mongoose’ Aurpon tells his tale with a neat moral.” Prema Nandakumar, The Hindu.
Human Values: The Tagorean Panorama
- Managing Values: “a welcome addition to the growing literature of the ethico-moral art of management… practical yet profound values for daily life…The authors, indeed, deserve praise for making this treasure-trove available to the English-speaking audience…these inspired talks will be an excellent handbook for experienced and senior managers who have lived through stress and strains, trials and tribulations. In the days of ruthless hedonism which caters for cakes and ale, the intensely spiritual yet immensely practical instructions of Tagore will, no doubt, bring about attitudinal change from Individualism to Universalism, from suspicion to trust, from hatred to love, from chaos to cosmos… Such insights which combine spirituality with materialism are a rarity and these will, certainly, turn our mind from the daily monotonous rut of thinking to something new, something fresh for revising our old established ideas procedures, providing an aid to holistic management.” Pankaj Kumar Mandal, The Statesman.
- Small is beautiful: “they are excellent specimens of creative treatments in which philosophy, poetry and pragmatism have a memorable rendezvous.” Manoj Das, The Hindu.
- “No, this is not just a book: verily it is an invitation for kindling consciousness itself… One feels beholden to Chakraborty and Bhattacharya for the cumulus of wisdom they have painstakingly arranged and offered with care and sensitivity in this collection of essays on human reality by one of the greatest sages of our times… Do we really need a Jonathan Livingstone Seagull to bring this home to us from across the Atlantic? … the oarsmen, Chakraborty and Bhattacharya, steer the boat over a smooth course into eternity. Nowhere is there an undue splash of oars to register a presence, not even in their brief introduction where one gets the impression that the effort is not to say much themselves but to induce the reader to step into the main text… Nor do the translators’ personalities intrude upon the reader, consistently revealing the subtle mastery, the unstated competence of the nature percussionist, constantly drawing one’s attention to the singer with well rounded echoes, enough to uphold but never to obtrude. This book is indeed a work of love, untainted by the gravitational pulls of small individual egos; hence the sense of unity and harmony.” Shashi Mishra IAS, Director General YASHADA, Journal of Human Values.
- “Chakraborty and Bhattacharya have rendered yeomen’s service to the English readership by providing English translations of discourses and essays from Tagore’s Santiniketan…What strikes one at the outset is the simple elegance of honest translation… The translation touches you as does the original…very sensitively captured and conveyed in these translations. They have like expert oarsmen steered our understanding through Tagore’s wisdom. The qualities of honesty, sensitivity and the easy graceful flow of language place this book in the must-read class. Going through the essays has been an educative and cherished experience…it will indeed be a very important weapon in the quiver of managers and administrators.” Gen. S.K. Sen, VSM in The Statesman.
Leadership and Power: Ethical Insights
- “An assorted yet well marshalled collection of papers makes an intellectually stimulating reading.” Prasanna Bhat in Business Line
- “This compilation (comes) at a time when materialism, commercialisation of education and research have devoured almost the whole of traditional wisdom. Theirs is an attempt to examine the problem, make a list of the diseases and suggest remedies in the light of earlier experiences. The contributors were given wide freedom, and since they come from a variety of work-areas, Leadership and Power has shaped itself into a double-jointed inter-disciplinary tool. There is a charming variety of subjects and style…When seen in balance, the twenty-nine papers in the collection usually zero in on either political power or corporate power and discuss the tremendous pressure upon a leader in either of these areas. So many authors leading us on Himalayan treks helping us look at the blossoms and thorny bushes on the pathway, the gurgling stream flowing close by, the strips of waterfalls that make you blink, the dangerous gorges on the sides and the beckoning peaks of achievement beyond. This elevating and practical adventure has been given a visual kick-start by Pradeep Nayak who has placed the leaders and their instruments of power in a capsule and whirled it into the space on the cover. Indeed Leadership and Power sets awhirl significant ideas and makes us think that transformation is possible. Transformation of a misused present into a worthy future. Yad bhaavam tad bhavati.“— Prema Nandakumar in BIBLIO.
- “In their book, Chakraborty and Bhattacharya have compiled a wide selection of perspectives on power. Twenty-nine diverse pieces…enriching material…from different parts of the world and from different fields and professions. The articles are thought-provoking and deal with real issues we are faced with on a day to day basis. On several levels the material in the articles is rich…have a high degree of authenticity about them…There is also a high degree of scholarship in many of the articles with myriad references from many renowned sources and personalities…the articles are a rich source with which to glimpse many aspects of power…in reading these pieces many questions arise which, when worked through, facilitate the emergence of a framework for power.” Pravir Malik in Mother India.
Panchakanya: The Five Virgins of Indian Epics—A Quest in Search of Meaning
- Pradip Bhattacharya is one of those intrepid scholars who also happen to be bureaucrats… Pradip has been exploring the Mahabharata tradition with enviable tenacity…. (it) is a mine of information… Pradip has taken up a cosmic canvas for his portraiture. His erudition lies in the ability to pick up a few intelligible details, send questions flying at himself, and seek answers from the reader….. Pradip’s approach is a feminist’s delight…Pradip’s account is sublime because the subject is sublime…In this wonderful chapter bringing together Vyasa with a good deal of latter-day recreations of Draupadi’s personality… Though Pancha-Kanya seems to be a slim monograph, it expands to Trivikraman proportions as we ruminate on the past sorrows, trials, triumphs of these five heroines…As Pradip says in conclusion: “The past does indeed hold the future in its womb.” It has been a great adventure … discovering new leads It is a wonderful package…prepared, and I will be coming to it again now and then, I am sure.— Dr. Prema Nandakumar, The Hindu
- (It) is anything but a simple analysis. It is unique as the first elaborate study of the two epics seen through the lens of a popular exhortation, whose source is elusive. It also posits a feminist perspective in the male dominated literary world of South Asia. Bhattacharya incorporates unorthodox scholarship in conjunction with orthodox scholarship, with the text poised at the cutting edge of Internet research…. It is this feminist “eye” that sets Bhattacharya’s analysis apart from most academic scholarship…. The analysis of the characters of non-Aryan Tars and Mandodari as strategists, politicians, visionaries, and no simple helpmates to their male consorts is brilliant and convincing….he displays his ability to “twist the plot” and throw the reader off-center while making him or her a partner in this “quest for meaning.”… The analyses again center around the duo as powerful females, as creators of their own destinies, independent of any male partners…. This slim volume is packed with information, references, and data, stemming from the ancient texts to modern revisitations in literature and performance studies. It is invaluable in its tested appeal for both undergraduate students and scholars. It is concise yet exhaustive. It is diverse as opposed to monolithic in its imaging of South Asian womanhood. And, finally, it engages a dialogue between past literature and present scholarship.— Ratna Roy, International Journal of Hindu Studies, 10 (3), 2006.
- The book is a beauty: it is hand-produced, with calligraphed trimmings, and the hardback is bound in patterned sarī cloth…. Many female epic characters are discussed in addition to the five, and mention is made of similar characters in other world mythology and literature. Overall the interested reader will feel that many fascinating issues have been raised… By the end, the book has become a dissertation on the kanyā concept rather than an inquiry into the śloka…Distributed throughout the book are thirty small black-and-white illustrations, including representations of Indian sculpture and painting from various regions and periods up to the present day. These pictures serve to emphasise one of Bhattacharya’s most central and well-made points, the cultural importance of the kanyā— Dr. Simon Brodbeck, SOAS, South Asia Research, volume 26 issue 1 (February 2006).
- “…a deeply engrossing and scholarly study…impeccable analysis… He brings about an effective fusion of the past and the present in his dextrous analysis of feminine psychology… He displays great fluidity of style, as he moves back and forth in time… the author encourages in the reader a spirit of inquiry, and leaves much of his observations to the interpretation of the reader, thus making the latter an active and creative participant in the development of his analysis… Panchakanya imparts a new dimension to post-colonial intellectual literature in English, in which the author relates historical and mythological facts to contemporary literature, theatre and modern feminist and psychoanalytic theories, thereby bringing out the richness of Indian feminism and cultural heritage.”— Ralla Guha Niyogi in Jadavpur University Essays and Studies, Kolkata, Vol. XIX–XX, 2005- 06.
- “Not only is it encyclopaedic in scholarship, it is written with exceptional sensitivity, asks all the questions that anyone can think up on the Pancha-Kanyas, provides answers that are at once thoughtful, provocative and commonsensical and what’s very important is that it eschews jargon to take you on a gripping ride across world-cultures regarding parallels and analogues to the Pancha-Kanyas. It’s a terrific, exciting read. It’s a book on comparative mythology like no other that I’ve read. Everyone should read it. It takes you deep into questions about women across time and across civilizations that will provide you both education and entertainment….spell-binding research work…a monument of scholarshiop that is of great relevance to our lives…a Renaissance man…he seems to have critically read through everything ever written on the Pancha-Kanyas across the globe…classical scholars, mythologists, translators, theatre directors and actors, film makers, dancers, musicians et al.”— Prof. Amitava Roy, former Shakespeare Professor, Rabindra Bharati University, in International Journal of Cultural Studies & Social Sciences, Vol. VIII, No. XI, 2017.
Revisiting the Panchakanyas
- “Five brilliant women speaking of the five traditional ‘Five Ladies’… The result is an arresting document that has also an afterword by Saroj Thakur and some paintings on the subject, executed during the seminar. … detail essentially a personal voyage within, anxious and defiant by turns. Which, of course, makes them eminently readable…. each a flame of courage and tapasya. Pradip, thank you!”— Prema Nandakumar, Mother India.
- “The volume’s inclusion of voices from outside academia as examples of contemporary interpretation complemented the goal of exploring the relevance of the pañca-kanyā in modern times and as a living tradition. This volume will be of greatest interest to scholars of contemporary Indian discourse on gender and gender models.”— Kendall Busse, University of California, Santa Barbara, in International Journal of Hindu Studies 13, 2, 2009.
- “This is an altogether an impressive and intellectually satisfying publication. Well-documented, and enriched with art drawings and dance photographs, the editor deserves praise.”— N. Vedanta Desikan, The Hindu, 10 July 2007.
- “Dr Pradip Bhattacharya weaves the seams together effortlessly… In celebrating the kanyas, we celebrate survivors.”—Amreeta Sen in The Sunday Statesman 6th May 2007.
Puranic Tales for Cynical People
- “The translators have done a wonderful job, despite the fact that they were faced with a daunting task, that of translating humor into English, from a language that is far removed in kinship terms. Indialog Publications deserves all praise for doing their bit for cynical people!” Lekshmy Rajeev on www.boloji.com
Ed. The Jaiminiya Ashvamedhaparva by S.K. Sen
- “The translation of this influential text, which renders it more accessible to English speaking scholars and other interested individuals, is therefore very welcome indeed! On the whole, the translation is easy to follow and flows nicely… Sen has done an excellent job by providing many wonderful footnotes as well as two glossaries… I find the introduction to be extremely interesting and instructive. In conclusion, this book has its place on the shelf of scholars interested in the Mahābhārata, especially if they are interested in its reception history and the role of Mahābhārata tradition within the cultural history of the subcontinent.” Dr. Tamar Reich in International Journal of Hindu Studies.
- “The long Introduction…is well written and instructive…the present transcreation is quite accurate”. Klaus Karttunen in Studia Orientalia vol. 111.
- “Their pretty book is the first English version of Jaimini’s …and as such it is an important publication which can bring the text to an enormously enlarged audience…it reads nicely enough… five handsome illustrations from a seventeenth-century Razmnama are reproduced as plates…The book includes a seven-page contents list with summaries of each chapter. This is a valuable reference tool, and readers will consult it often…The book has four useful glossaries…Sen, Bhattacharya, and the Writers Workshop are to be heartily and gratefully congratulated for the contribution they have made. This book will undoubtably reinvigorate scholarly and public interest in Jaimini’s Asvamedhikaparvan.” Dr. Simon Brodbeck, Religions of South Asia 4.1 (2010).
Narrative Art in the Mahabharata
“This is a solid, original work of scholarship. It is also unusually well written, with flare and elegance, and carefully edited; I found almost no typos or infelicities of style. I actually enjoyed reading it, and learned much from it. The insights come not in any overarching argument or thesis, but rather in a series of separate apercus that come in each chapter, shedding light on each of a series of human problem, even beginning with the structure of the table of contents! These insights often come from, or reflect, works outside of Indian literature, classics of Greek and English literature, in particular, but the work also incorporates a knowledge of Chinese and Irish history, inter alia. I also enjoyed the quiet citations of English literature peppered throughout the writing. And I welcomed the continuous concern to present the agency of women throughout the Epic, a focus on the strong women in the story—not just Draupadi and Kunti, but Shakuntala, Devayani, Urvashi, and many others. The historical background is brought into the argument from time to time, to ground it.”—Dr. Wendy Doniger, Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions, Chair of the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago.
“…reveals (his) command over the entire epic story and the creative literature that has been inspired by it…his study of the epic has transcended the perimeters of a doctoral dissertation to stream forth into the epic’s parameters…A very satisfactory introduction to indicate how out of all the jumble of man-woman relationships (in and out of wedlock), a certain perfected aim at conserving the very best in the nation had been achieved by the time the Kurukshetra war took place and how the very human passions that billow throughout the epic get their early push from the Book of the Beginnings…there are also flashes of insight…Despite the tangled nature of the criss-crossing myths and legends, Sri Bhattacharya has maintained clarity in outlining the themes, indicating the structure and conveying his views in a commendable manner.”—Dr. Prema Nandakumar, noted scholar.
“This is a most valuable and original contribution to the field of Hindu Studies in general and in particular to the study of the Mahabharata. It contributes to new understanding. It makes important corrections to well-established views and gives an interesting and original account of a topic that remains important. It will add a new approach and addition to the study of the Mahabharata. The work is based on Hindu categories, epistemology, and historical experience. The work effectively restores complexity to a subject that indeed is often badly over-simplified. It offers a fascinating, insightful but critical account to the study of the Mahabharata. It is a well-researched reflection on the topic, and the author gives evidence of a deep familiarity with the material. It is engaging and well written and should capture the attention of readers. I learned a lot from this work. It made me think of my own work in a new way. An outstanding contribution.”—Dr. Sushil Mittal, Associate Professor of Hinduism, James Madison University, USA.
“…succeeds in directing the reader’s attention to the key patterns in the Ādiparvan time and again…insights are enriched by parallels and cross-references to other epic and purāṇic material, and are strengthened by an intimate familiarity with the MBh as a whole…rightly identifies the Ādiparvan as an object worthy of exclusive and lengthy investigation… succeeds, in an easy and readable style, in drawing attention to the merits of Lal’s poetic rendering, and in presenting several intriguing insights into the Ādiparvan‘s dominant themes.” Dr. Christopher Austin, Dalhousie University, International Journal of Hindu Studies.
The Mokshadharma Parva
- “It is indeed very brave of Bhattacharya as this is the toughest section of the epic, containing the essence of Vyasan philosophy…The depth of research that has gone into this translation is amazing. The additional stories and verses he found have been included…providing the reader with the ‘full ragbag version.’ This has lent the book a unique comprehensiveness. A difficult and colossal job, well done! …he has succeeded in communicating the meaning of the concepts difficult to comprehend. One moves easily with the easy flow of his language. His poetry is excellent. It is rich yet simple. One never stumbles while going along. It has the easy flow of a river and the cadence of raindrops, and that makes the translation so attractive.” Shekhar Sen, The Sunday Statesman, 25.12.2016.
- “Bhattacharya is the foremost Sanskrit scholar in India today in the field of Mahabharata Studies… (his) method of approach makes for a definitive translation…sustains the profound subtlety of the original and extremely compressed words…likewise captures well the extremely complex dramatic quality of so much of Bhīṣma’s vast monologue…this great event of mimēsis is fully conveyed by the translation…The great Naranārāyaṇīya…is beautifully translated and finely captures the tone and flavour of that long anthem…the author frequently leaves within his translation certain words in the Sanskrit which brings to the text a much larger authenticity and authority…This is a crucial aspect of the book’s effectiveness as a medium not simply of specific communication but also of cultural significance…This wonderful, thoroughly well-composed, and masterful book is faultlessly printed and handsomely bound…surely to become a matchless title on the shelves of any library of theology. This mighty work will long remain as one of Bhattacharya’s most renowned and paramount contributions to current Indology, both in Asia and in the West.” Kevin McGrath, Harvard University, Journal of Vaishnava Studies, Vol. 26, No.1, 2017.
- “Bhattacharya’s work is culturally important in bringing to the English speaking world this very important parvan…Bhattacharya deserves kudos for bringing into light the stupendous work and name of Siddhāntavāgiśa…translation is crisp, compact and lucid. As an experimentation in translation, Bhattacharya’s methodology is here to last…The annexures are useful and enlightening….In final analysis, Bhattacharya’s rendering is a must in library for serious scholars and readers alike. Indrajit Bandyopadhyay, Indologica Taurinensia, 43 (2017).
- “…brilliantly translated into English…a monumental piece of work as well as a superb literary achievement. Bhattacharya’s mastery of the English language is astounding. With amazing fluidity, the mighty torrent of the translation flows on for 1077 pages, carrying us with it…a superb example for what encyclopedic knowledge, hard work, superb literary talent and total commitment can achieve. The work is a masterpiece of Sanskrit translation. As a translator Bhattacharya eminently succeeds in achieving all the aims he sets for himself.” Satya Chaitanya in Religions of South Asia 11.2-3 (2017).
Panchakanya: Women of Substance
(Translated into French, Hindi, Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam)
“What a fantastic piece of writing is Panchakanya! The research is extraordinary, but so is the in-depth analysis…It’s the kind of writing that should reach the wider reading public …champions of women’s rights, feminists included, would be greatly interested.” Dr.Sarala Barnabas, scholar and novelist, Ahmednagar College, Maharashtra
- “I have read it with great interest I am baffled that such a highly specialised topic could arouse such an interest.” Gilles Schaufelberger, on the Panchakanya Seminar report on indianest.com .
- “It is a piece that should be read slowly…find your article packed with information.” Ahana Lakshmi about “Panchakanya: Women of Substance.”
- “We found the article of great interest, and it shows considerable scholarship.” Nanny de Vries, co-editor Thamyris
- “Panchakanya indeed made a very interesting reading. I am yet to come across such exhaustive yet comprehensive piece of work. It appears as through the writer has actually delved deep into the minds of all the five characters (this I say inspite of the references used) and somewhere deep down I feel there is one in most of us. The write-up is very much unputdownable.” firstname.lastname@example.org
- “Many thanks for the complex and fascinating notes on the dharma of niyoga, which strike me as absolutely right.” Wendy Doniger, University of Chicago.
- “I just read your wonderful review in BIBLIO (of Splitting the Difference), for which I am VERY grateful. It raises big issues and is very generous, all at the same time. I am so happy to have it; there have been very few truly perceptive reviews of that book and they are precious to me…What would I do without you! I do appreciate your appreciation of my work.” Wendy Doniger.
- “It remains the very best review of ANY of my books, ever, and I remain very grateful to you.” Wendy Doniger on the review of her The Bedtrick.
- “As I read the review of Doniger’s book (Splitting the Difference), I began to realize the reviewer had done such an excellent, comprehensive job, it was almost as good as reading the book.” Sarla Barnabas, Ahmednagar College, Maharashtra.
- “Thank you SO MUCH for such a generous and appreciative review (of The Hindus—an alternative history); it says all that I hoped critics would say, and some did, in part. It’s a great gift.” Wendy Doniger.
- “Thank you very much for reading it so carefully. I don’t think I have ever received an extensive and careful review before.” Dr Paula Richman on the review of her Questioning Ramayanas.
- “I am grateful to you for such a long and detailed review of Epic Threads…thank you once again for the care with which you have prepared your review.” J.L. Brockington, School of Asian Studies, Edinburgh University.
- “Your long and thoughtful review does justice to Brockington’s work, and I’m glad to have seen it. The review of Richman’s book is—like your review of Brockington—very thoughtful and balanced and well-informed. The Panchakanya article introduced me to a topic I had never come across before.” J. D. Smith, Faculty of Oriental Studies, Cambridge University, on the reviews of Epic Threads and Questioning Ramayanas.
- “That is quite a review. Good to see you getting tough…the extensions on Doniger’s piece and the proposals on a Narmada research are most well taken. Can we hope for some such study from you?” Alf Hiltebeitel, Professor of Religion & Human sciences, The George Washington University, on the review of Hawley & Wulff’s Devi: the Divine Consort.
- “I have been very interested in your text, it breathes life into old friends of mine, Bhishma, Karna, Krishna, Satyavati, Kunti and Draupadi, and it has deeply changed the opinion I could have on them. Thus, I have the impression to understand them better, which gives me also a better understanding of the epic itself. Be thanked for that.” Gilles Schaufelberger on “Leadership Insights from Mahabharata” (translator of “Panchakanya: Women of Substance,” “Desire under the Kalpataru” and “Leadership Insights from the Mahabharata” into French http://www.neurom.ch/mbh/5.htm#liens).
- “Your most recent piece on Mausala backfills the sparse Critical Edition account of the end of the Yadavas with so many informative narratives, from the Harivamsa on. A truly edifying and inspiring piece.” Alf Hiltebeitel
- “I took time out to read and re-read your review on Debroy and Smith. As the popular saying goes: What is there in the Mahabharata may be found elsewhere but what is not there cannot be found anywhere else. Truly, the same could be said about you too with reference to literature reviews on our Epics. What you don’t know about the various translations and scholarship on the Mahabharata would not be known by anyone else indeed.”—Avin D.
- Text and Variations of the Mahabharata: “two articles by Pradip Bhattacharya are arresting. In one he strikes at the very root of the most talked-about episode of the epic, the disrobing of Draupadi.…In another remarkable essay on Mahabharata as performed on the small and the large screen, Bhattacharya discusses in depth B.R. Chopra’s notable television production of the Mahabharata bringing out the salient features of Rahi Masoom Reza’s sensitive and ingeniously conceived script, …to lambast, quite rightly, Peter Brook’s inadequate eight-hour production of the epic…highlighting Brook’s shallow and insensitive handling of the epic.”— Gen. S.K. Sen, VSM.
Madhusraba Dasgupta: Samsad Companions to The Mahabharata and The Ramayana, Shishu Sahitya Samsad, Kolkata, Rs. 1200 and Rs.800; pp. (large size) 608 & 400
The sheer magnitude of India’s epics has proved a great challenge as much to the scholar as to the aficionado, besides putting off the common reader—but no longer. Thanks to the astonishing labour of Smt. Madhusraba Dasgupta, who has put together single-handedly everything there is to know about both epics, even the quizmaster will now have an easy time finding material to draw upon. For the Mahabharata, she has used the Pune Bhandarkar edition, the Bengal Asiatic Society edition, and its translation by K.M. Ganguli, which she unaccountably refers to as “P.C. Ray” although he was only the publisher. Every entry is referenced with respect to both editions—an extremely useful feature. The publisher, Debajyoti Dutta, deserves our gratitude for publishing these volumes with such excellent production values.
Long ago, Sorensen had compiled an index to the Mahabharata arranged in dictionary form. A Hindi version by Ramkumar Rai was published in several volumes in the Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series, with a parallel “kosha” for the Ramayana in the early 1980s. If, however, one wishes to find out what weapons were used, what the terms mean and what the army formations were, that information was not found there. Dasgupta groups the data under eight headings “to kindle enthusiasm and ease the exertion of the reader who wants to see beyond a mere account of facts.” These are: the parvas and sections; identities; the ancient world (then and now); races, tribes, castes; troop formations, weapons, accessories; specific terms; other names of characters; an appendix providing select genealogies, the last without providing any reference to the text. She has formulated her own pronunciation guide, departing from the internationally accepted diacriticals, finding that inadequate.
The introduction to the Mahabharata volume is rather slender. She makes the interesting point that no detailed physical description of any character is found—what we have is quite vague. Besides listing characters and places, she also provides the inhabitants of different regions, the social orders. She points out the lack of mention of any temple or idol. However, in Ganguli’s translation of the Sabha Parva section 79, we find Vidura telling Dhritarashtra, “And jackals and vultures and ravens and other carnivorous beasts and birds began to shriek and cry aloud from the temples of the gods and the tops of sacred trees and walls and house-tops.” In section 32, there is reference to temples of gods, and to a temple of Shiva in section 15 in which Jarasandha imprisoned princes. Dasgupta claims that there is archaeological evidence of the Kurukshetra battle. Actually, no such evidence has been found. Only pottery was dug up in the early 1950s, but nothing that connects to what we find in the Mahabharata. Strangely enough, there has been no excavation here since then, despite all the breast-beating about unearthing and preserving ancient Indian heritage. The astronomical evidence she refers to as fixing 1500 BC, as the time of the war is as dubious as the Yudhishthira Era of 3102 BC is. She refers to the epic having had 8,800 verses initially, an erroneous notion propagated by Weber. This is the number of verses that Sauti refers to as “knotted slokas,” very difficult to understand. Nor does the Mahabharata consist of one lakh slokas, but extends to over 90,000 verses.
Anyone wanting a list of all the pilgrimage spots mentioned will find it readily in this volume. The spots Balarama visits could have been mentioned in a cluster as has been done for the Pandavas. All forests, lakes, rivers, mountains, kingdoms, cities, villages and even steeds and standards are listed! Besides vyuhas (troop formations), parts of the chariot, the various modes of fighting, celestial weapons and normal ones are catalogued. She has tried to identify, as far as possible, the current names of the places mentioned, so that the geography comes alive to us today. Unfortunately, there is no map in both volumes, which would have enhanced their usefulness.
The entry on Shiva seems to contain a few errors. It was Agni, not Shiva, who gifted the Gandiva bow to Arjuna. Shiva’s pinaka is not a small drum but a pike or trident. What he holds is a dambaru which is an hour-glass shaped small drum. His going before Arjuna killing those whom his arrows later slay has been omitted.
Some of the entries could have been a little more informative. Where can we find the names of the eight sons of Kavi? Surya was named Martanda (dead-egg) because he was stillborn (like Parikshit). Also, as Martanda is also the name of Yama, it hints at why he was called lord of death. Again, Ekalavya is not the son of Nishada king Hiranyadhanu, but his adopted son, born to Krishna’s paternal uncle Devashrava who gave him away. He is, thus, Krishna’s agnate cousin whom he kills, as he does his aunt’s son Shishupala. Again, Jara, Krishna’s killer was his stepbrother, being Vasudeva’s son from a Shudra wife who became a Nishada chief (cf. Harivansha, Vishnu Parva, 103.27). In the genealogy provided in the Appendix, these relationships are not indicated, nor the fact that Pritha-Kunti was of Yadu’s lineage and the sister of Vasudeva, and names of the mothers of Balarama, Krishna and Subhadra. Balarama and Krishna’s wives are also missing. One would have thought that the very critical role women play in the Mahabharata would have motivated Smt. Dasgupta to include all the names of women in the genealogies. She overlooks references in the Ashramavasika Parva to two more wives: another wife of Bhima is the sister of Krishna’s inveterate foe (Shishupala/ Jarasandha/Dantavakra?) and a wife of Sahadeva is a daughter of Jarasandha. Their names and progeny are not mentioned. How many of us realise that when Abhimanyu killed Brihadbala, ruler of Kosala, it was in effect the Lunar Dynasty wiping out Ayodhya’s Solar Dynasty! In the genealogy, no link is shown between Pratipa (Paryashravas in a parallel version) and Shantanu, despite their being father and son. The fact that Bharata adopted Bhumanyu from Bharadvaja, disinheriting his nine sons, has not been indicated.
One misses a list of the partial descents (amshavatarana) of gods, demi-gods and anti-gods that is an important part of the framework of the epic, which is to relieve the earth of its burden of demonic rulers. Surya’s two wives, their progeny and how Surya was partly shorn of his blaze are missing. Though the names of Yayati’s disinherited sons are given, what happened to their lineages is missing. However, bhaktas will readily find here the 1008 names of Shiva and Vishnu conveniently grouped at one place.
The introduction to the Ramayana Companion is satisfyingly long, providing features of the three cities that are in conflict: Ayodhya, Kishkindha and Lanka, along with the living patterns, culture, and an overview of the characters and the pantheon. Unlike the other volume, this draws not upon the Baroda critical edition, but only on the vulgate, i.e. the Gita Press and the Calcutta edition of 1907. Besides the sectional headings of the preceding book, added here are creatures, heavenly bodies, flora-fauna, gems, musical instruments, food and drink, transport, units of measures and weights. These additional sections indicate that the society of the Ramayana is more developed than that of the ostensibly later Mahabharata which is quite Hobbesian in being nasty and brutish. Interestingly enough, there is no paean listing multiple names of any deity in Valmiki’s composition, which does suggest an earlier culture. The geographical section omits the name of Shravasti, the capital of Northern Kosala ruled by Lava. The unfortunate omission of an index in the Mahabharata volume has been remedied here so that one can easily locate the relevant entry.
No praise is adequate for the extraordinary work Smt. Dasgupta has done. Hers is a signal contribution to Indological studies. The publisher, too, richly deserves accolades from all readers.
Indologica Taurinensia 43 (2017)
PRADIP BHATTACHARYA, trans. from Sanskrit, The Mahabharata of Vyasa: The Complete Shantiparva Part 2: Mokshadharma, Writers Workshop, Kolkata, 2016, pp. 1107, Rs. 2000/-
The book reviewed here is Pradip Bhattacharya’s translation of Mokṣadharmaparvan in the Śānti-Parvan of Mahābhārata, which starts from Section 174 of the Śānti-Parvan in Kisari Mohan Ganguli’s (KMG) prose translation, and corresponds to Section 168 of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) or Pune Critical Edition (C.E).
Padma Shri Professor Purushottam Lal, D. Litt. began the first ever attempt to a verse “transcreation” of the Mahabharata in 1968; unfortunately, his timeless ongoing work lost to time in 2010 with his untimely demise, so that “transcreation” of sixteen and a half of the epic’s eighteen books could be published. Bhattacharya takes up the unfinished job of his Guru, and offers this verse-prose Guru–Dakṣiṇā to his “much-admired guru and beloved acharya”, Prof. Lal. He however, is on his own in that he does “translate rather than transcreate”.
Bhattacharya proposes to “keeping to the original syntax as far as possible without making the reading too awkward” and sets out on his translation venture “in free verse (alternate lines of ten and four-to-six feet) and in prose (as in original) faithful to Prof. Lal’s objective of providing the full ‘ragbag’ version.”
Mokṣadharmaparvan being the philosophic and soteriological culmination of Mahābhārata and Ancient India’s message and wisdom, Bhattacharya’s work is culturally important in bringing to the English speaking world this very important parvan.
The idea of Mokṣa that Kṛṣṇa teaches Arjuna in the Gītā (Udyoga Parvan) and found elsewhere (though mostly in the sense of liberty from any Tyrannous Power) is elaborated in Mokṣadharmaparvan through Itihāsa-Puraṇa, narratives, recollections and fables. Mokṣa is the final of the Four Puruṣārthas – following Dharma, Artha and Kāma; yet it would not arrive automatically or inevitably by law of chronology unless Puruṣakāra blends with Daiva, and Daiva may favour only when Balance of Puruṣārthas – Dharma-Artha-Kāma – is attained through Buddhi, Upāya (Strategy/Policy), Will and Karma.
The parvan stands out as unique in its advocacy of Liberal Varṇa System (portraying non-Brāhmiṇ characters like Sulabhā, prostitute Piṅgalā and Śūdras as qualified for higher merit and social status through wisdom), and carries the important and interesting message that understanding Gender Relation or Evolutionary Nature of Gender is essential for Prajñā leading to Mokṣa. Yudhiṣṭhira learns all these theoretically from grandfather Bhīṣma, who is then on his Bed of Arrows. This is not without significance. Bhīṣma’s physical life-in-death or death-in-life is apt parallel and metaphor for Yudhiṣṭhira’s mental state. Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers and Draupadī qualify to gain knowledge on Mokṣa–Dharma only after their growing realization through dialogues, debates, experiences and feelings that victory in war has been futile, and Kurukṣetra War is as much external as internal. Yet, at the end of Śānti-Parvan, theoretical knowledge does not suffice, and the Pāṇḍavas and Draupadī emerge Dynamic in their quest for more quests – that sets the stage for further of Bhīṣma’s advice in Anuśāsana Parvan. The message that emerges from Mokṣadharmaparvan is that, one has to actually attain Mokṣa; mere theorizing is only furthering Bandhana.
Bhattacharya has long been a critic of the C.E considered almost sacrosanct by perhaps most of the Videśi and Svadeśī scholars alike, while, ironically, even V.S. Sukhtankhar (1887-1943), the first general editor of the project, was tentative in calling it an approximation of the earliest recoverable form of the Mahākāvya. Bhattacharya’s taking up the massive project of translation is, in a way, his critical commentary on C.E through action; he boldly declares about his project “whatever the C.E. has left out has been sought to be included” – ringing like Mahābhārata’s famous self-proclamation – yad ihāsti tad anyatra yan nehāsti na tat kva cit (1.56.33).
Bhattacharya’s project is thus, what James Hegarty calls “(recovery of) embarrassment of riches” and perhaps more, because it is “a conflation of the editions published by the Gita Press (Gorakhpur, 9th edition, 1980), Āryaśāstra (Calcutta, 1937) and that translated and edited by Haridās Siddhāntavāgiś Bhattacharya in Bengali with the Bhāratakaumudī and Nīlakaṅṭha’s Bhāratabhāvadīpa annotations (Bishwabani Prakashani, Calcutta, 1939).”
Bhattacharya has done an invaluable job to English readership by providing four episodes found in Haridās Siddhāntavāgiś (Nibandhana-Bhogavatī, Nārada, Garuḍa and Kapilā Āsurī narratives) and many verses not found in the Gorakhpur edition. Of these, the Kapilā Āsurī Saṃvāda at Section 321-A (p-815) is only found in Siddhāntavāgiś edition (vol. 37, pp. 3345-3359). Just as in archaeology, every piece of human-treated rock delved from earth is beyond value, I would say that every unique variation or every narrative in Mahābhārata recensions is of similar value particularly in marking a curious interaction point between Classical and Folk Mahābhārata – that no serious Mahābhārata scholar can ignore.
Bhattacharya deserves kudos for bringing into light the stupendous work and name of Siddhāntavāgiś, an almost forgotten name even to most Bengalis, and an unknown scholar to most Mahābhārata scholars or readers, almost eclipsed by the other popular Bengali translator Kālī Prasanna Siṃha.
Translation is a difficult and complex ball-game, particularly when it comes to Sanskrit. India and the Mahābhārata-World have witnessed much Translation Game all in the name of scholarship. The Translation Game as a part of Colonizer’s Agenda as well as the Game-calling is already cliché – having been pointed out and criticized by stalwarts from Rsi Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay to Edward W. Saïd. Sometimes Agenda sometimes peculiar whims have done injustice to Sanskrit. While Alf Hiltebeitel’s constant rendering of Itihāsa as “History”, or Mahākāvya as “Epic”, or translation of Dharma as “religion” or “law” or “foundation” (the latter also in Patrick Olivelle) is the most common example of the former, Van Buitenan’s rendering of Kṣatriya as “Baron” is a signal case of the latter.
The whole Vedic (later, Hindu) tradition is contained in culturally sensitive lexicons that should not be subjected to Free Play in the name of translation. Needless to say, Dharma holds the Key to Bhāratiya Itihāsa as also understanding Mahābhārata. Given the inclusion of Dharma in Oxford dictionary, and given definition of Itihāsa in Kauṭilya’s Arthaśāstra (anywhere between c.a 300 BCE – 300 CE) and Kalhana’s (c. 12th century) Rājātaraṅgini, I wonder why Dharma has to be translated at all, or why Itihāsa has to be translated as “History”, a signifier that falls shorter to the signified of Itihāsa. Bhattacharya arrives at a compromise by rendering “Itihāsa-history” (e.g. Section 343, p- 998).
Bhattacharya’s translation venture has to be understood at the backdrop of above-mentioned translation-scenario. He declares he has been cautious on the matter of translation in having cross-checked with Kaliprasanna Sinha’s Bengali translation (1886), KMG’s first English translation (1883-96) and the shorter BORI edition. Such crosschecking with available translations in different languages of a time-tested Sanskrit work is no doubt the safest and most appropriate translation-methodology that every aspiring translator of already rendered works should follow. Mahābhārata can neither be reduced into simplistic narratives, nor it can be thought in terms of Grand Narrative; more so because Sanskrit denies singular and straightjacket interpretation of signifiers. Varied translations are actually explorations of various narrative possibilities in the Sanskrit lexicon and Ślokas. The wise way therefore, is to keep open to different narrative possibilities.
As one reads Bhattacharya’s translation, one finds that his work is as much experimentation with translating Sanskrit into English, as much with English language itself. If Sanskrit is not a translatable language, then English must transform into a worthy receptacle language – this, it seems, is Bhattacharya’s underlying purpose and belief. He retains Sanskrit words that are in the Oxford English Dictionary, and following Prof. Lal’s style of rendering some Sanskrit words and giving their common or contextual English synonym with a hyphen, also coins Sanskrit-English compounds or retain Sanskrit word as it is. In latter cases, initially, the unused eye and ear may miss the rhythm; however, the Sanskrit-English compound has a rhythm of its own, adds to poetic flavor, enables Bhattacharya to maintain syllable counts in feet, and also enables him to be the simultaneous translator and reader.
Bhattacharya’s Sanskrit-English compounding is utilitarian and perhaps Political too, and surely comes under the purview of Skopostheorie. The reader has the option either to make sense of the Sanskrit on his/her own, or take the English suggested by Bhattacharya. In ‘pure’ translation, this option is unavailable and the reader has to be at the receiving end.
At times, however, over-use of Sanskrit-English compounds makes the reading strenuous and breaks the rhythm. For example, “Likewise by force do I Pṛthivī-earth verily for the welfare of all creatures” (Section 339, verse 71, p- 936) is not a sonorous rendering. Similarly, in “Niṣāda-tribals” (Section 328, verse 14, p- 863), compounding ‘tribal’ is neither politically correct, nor historically or Mahābhāratically correct, because Niṣāda is Varṇasaṃkara (12.285.8-9), and sometimes considered Kṣatriya – though “fallen”, and overall a very complex entity.
In some cases, where the Śloka itself offers the explanation to an epithet or name, Bhattacharya’s retaining the Sanskrit word for what is already explained in the Śloka is a laudable strategy to introduce the Sanskrit word into English vocabulary. For example, “śitikaṇṭha” (verse 98) and “Khaṇḍaparaśu” (verse 100) at Section 342 (p- 990). However, the “ś” in former is small, but “K” in later is in capital; consistency should have been maintained, as also in the case of “maha”. For example, mahāprājña (12.200.1a) rendered as “Maha-wise” is with capital “M” (verse 1, 12, p- 157, 159), whereas it is not in other 6 cases like “maha-rishis” (p- 1026, 1027). ‘P’ in Puruṣottama is not capitalized at Section 235 verse 39 (p- 908), but capitalized at page- 910 (verse 53). Guṇa is not transcripted (Sec- 205, verse 10-12, p- 142); it is with small “g” in most cases, even at page-143, verse 17 where once it is small and once with a capital “G”. Kāla is transcripted but in same verse-line saṃsāra is not (Sec- 213, verse 13, p- 217). Similarly, “atman” (Ātmā) is sometimes with small “a” sometimes capital “A” (e.g. p-386-7).
Bhattacharya may address these minor issues in his next edition; minor, because his laudable retention of culturally exclusive words like “arghya” (e.g. Section 343, p- 1000) and “āñjali” [“palms joined in āñjali” (e.g. Section 325, verse 30 & 32, p- 846)], as also Praṇāma in “pranam-ed” (verse 19, p- 176) and “pranam-ing” (Sec- 209A, verse 25, 28, 29, 33; p- 177), outweighs occasional capitalization-italicization inconsistency or misses.
Even if it is not “inconsistency” but deliberate, Bhattacharya’s dual strategy of transcripting Sanskrit words in IAST, and non-transcripting Oxford accepted Sanskrit words, may appear confusing to readers. For example, he does not transcript the prefix ‘maha’ or italicize it. Similar is “rishis”. In my opinion, the recurrence of the prefix ‘maha’ could have been avoided in some cases. For example, “maha-humans” (Section 343, p- 999) and ‘mahāyaśāḥ’ (12.200.33a) translated as “maha-renowned” (Sec- 207, vn. 33, p- 161) sounds odd and breaks the rhythm.
The translation experimentation is Bhattacharya’s commentary too – which Sanskrit words English should accept in vocabulary instead of futile indulging in Translation Game. Take for example the word Puruṣa, which is a Key word in the Mokṣadharmaparvan and in the doctrine of Puruṣārthas. Puruṣa has been translated in various ways. Renowned scholars like Julius Eggeling, Max Muller, Arthur Berriedale Keith and Hanns Oertel have mostly translated Puruṣa as “man” or “person” in their renderings of ancient Vedic texts. Needless to say, these renderings are misleading because originally, it is a non-gendered concept. Bhattacharya has it both ways; he retains Puruṣa and offers different compounding in different contexts – Puruṣa-Spirit (e.g. Sec- 348, p- 1026), “Puruṣa-being” (e.g. Sec- 321, verse 37, p- 817; Sec- 343, p- 1000), and “Puruṣa the Supreme Person” (Sec- 334, verse 29, p- 900). While the contextual compounding offers the reader the choice to make his own sense of Puruṣa, in my opinion, Bhattacharya could have retained Puruṣa as it is, because the compounded English translation is at times etymologically problematic. For example, Bhattacharya translates ekāntinas tu puruṣā gacchanti paramaṃ padam (12.336.3c) as “those exclusive devotees, reaching Puruṣa-spirit the supreme station” (Sec- 348, p- 1026). But, ‘Spirit’ from PIE *(s)peis– “to blow” does not go well with Puruṣa (though “ru” connotes “sound”), and though the Latin spiritus connotes “soul” (other than “courage, vigor, breath”), the modern English connotation (since c.1250) “animating or vital principle in man and animals,” and Puruṣa is indeed identified with Prāṇa in Brāhmaṇas and Āraṇyakas, yet Puruṣa is much more than all those combined connotations and significances. Perhaps, Bhattacharya could have left Puruṣa as Puruṣa, and Pada as Pada given the immense significations of Pada. “Supreme station” does not seem to be an adequate translation of paramaṃ padam. ‘Station’ from PIE base *sta– “to stand” is rather Static, whereas, Puruṣa is a Dynamic principle in Vedas with “thousand feet” (RV- 10.90). Bhattacharya seems to have followed Griffith’s translation of Paramaṃ Padaṃ as “supreme station” (e.g. Griffith’s trans. in RV- 1.22.21 – “Vishnu’s station most sublime” for viṣṇoḥ yat paramam padam). Further, the punctuation ‘comma’ is missing after Puruṣa-spirit.
Bhattacharya has sometimes quoted the whole Sanskrit Śloka and then given its translation. Mostly these are well-known and oft-quoted famous Ślokas; at times, it seems these are his personal favourites. This strategy is a severe jolt to conventional translation. Bhattacharya makes the point that despite reading translation, the reader must have the reminder of the original. In some renderings, he has used popular English idioms in addition to the translation, which carry the sense of the Śloka though not literally implied. Such experimentation makes the communication forceful. For example, he translates karoti yādṛśaṃ karma tādṛśaṃ pratipadyate (12.279.21c) as “as is the karma done, similar is the result obtained”; and then further adds, “as you sow, so shall you reap” (verse 22, p- 639). This being a popular idiom, succeeds in better communication with the reader, which is no doubt the translator’s achievement.
Bhattacharya’s translation is crisp, compact and lucid. For example, KMG renders – manoratharathaṃ prāpya indriyārthahayaṃ naraḥ / raśmibhir jñānasaṃbhūtair yo gacchati sa buddhimān (12.280.1) as “That man who, having obtained this car, viz., his body endued with mind, goes on, curbing with the reins of-knowledge the steeds represented by the objects of the senses, should certainly be regarded as possessed of intelligence.” The result is loosening and dispersing of the original sense; besides, “curbing” adds negative dimension. Bhattacharya translates this as “obtaining this chariot of the mind drawn by the horses of the sense-objects, the man who guides it by the reins of knowledge…” – which is a more practical and easy-flowing rendering, retaining the poetic flavour; besides, “guiding” instead of KMG’s “curbing” is positive and does justice to the optimistic philosophy implied here.
Bhattacharya’s task is indeed a “Himalayan task” (preface, p-6) as he is aware of the “challenge”. With all humbleness that befits an Indian scholar’s Śraddhā to Indian tradition, Bhattacharya is open-minded to revise towards perfection and admits “all errors are mine and I shall be grateful if these are pointed out” (Preface, p- 6).
As an experimentation in translation, Bhattacharya’s methodology is here to last; future translators of Sanskrit may improve the system, but surely cannot indulge in whimsical translations without mentioning the original Sanskrit words that hold the key to the overall meaning of a Śloka or a section or even the whole Text.
The annexures provided at the end of the translation work is useful and enlightening. Annexure-1 gives the internationally accepted system of Roman transliteration of the Devanāgari. Annexure-2 is Prof. P. Lal’s sketch of the Mahābhāratan North India (based on the Historical Atlas of South Asia) showing important places and rivers; however, one feels, the sketch could have been magnified a bit for better legibility. This document and Annexure-3, another sketch of the whole of India, is historically valuable as reminiscence of Prof. P. Lal. Annexure-4 provides a comprehensive list of all the episodes of Mokṣa–Dharma parvan courtesy Madhusraba Dasgupta. This document is an instant information provider of what is contained in Mokṣa–Dharma parvan. One wishes, Bhattacharya could have provided the corresponding page numbers to the episodes of his translation.
In final analysis, Bhattacharya’s rendering is a must in library for serious scholars and readers alike.
Associate Professor, Department of English
Kalyani Mahavidyalaya, West Bengal, India
“Though sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, a ring is almost never just a ring.”
Doniger’s great contribution to comparative mythology studies has been the elaboration of the Mobius strip nature of myth, where themes keep unravelling and doubling back on themselves, or interlock on semblances like a Venn diagram whose intersecting rings have no central ring. In The Implied Spider: Politics and Theology in Myth (1998) she set forth the proposition, continued the investigation with Splitting the Difference (1999) to reveal how myth-making can be used to overcome barriers of gender and culture. In The Bedtrick (2000) she examined the patterns we have created to deal with sexual fantasies. The Woman Who Pretended to Be Who She Was: Myths of Self-imitation (2005) dealt with multiple identities and love in Indo-European myths.
When we think of the ring, four names immediately spring to mind: Kalidasa, Wagner, Bro wning and Tolkien. Rings are embedded in Doniger’s psyche beginning with the gimmel ring her father gave her mother inscribed, “REF to SHU”. Baffling! It referred to her favourite volume of the eleventh edition of the 1911 edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica a signal edition which my grandfather also had. Then there is Doniger’s own wedding ring which she retained even after divorce. No wonder she returns to explore its symbolism at length a decade after completing her mythic quartet with The Woman who pretended to be Herself (2006). Her new book explores a symbol she had touched upon in The Bedtrick. Tolkien’s psyche-corrupting ring does not feature in the line-up while the rings of Kalidasa and Wagner receive detailed treatment.
In ten chapters Doniger brings to light different functions rings perform in myth, literature and, her particular speciality, cinema. To her, “rings are signifiers, semiotic objects.” She traces rings through time functioning as recognition clues. There are marriage (and adultery) rings, rings fished from the sea (Shakespeare), Rama’s ring, Shakuntala’s ring, rings of forgetfulness in medieval romances, the Siegfried Saga, clever wives who trick alienated husbands into getting them pregnant, the vexed issue of the rape of the clever wife (one of whom almost rapes her husband). After this the concept of the ring is enlarged to cover jewellery (the circular hollow variety) beginning with Marie Antoinette’s notorious necklace. The ninth chapter ventures into jewellery in English literature and the last investigates if diamonds are, indeed, a woman’s best friend. She shows how marriage, jewellery and faking both “are joined at the hip,” sprinkling the entire investigation with personal anecdotes that lend an engrossing intimate touch to the writing and with puns that enliven the reading. What she leaves out is rings that are just magical (e.g. Aladdin’s) or have secret recesses to hide passwords, microfilms or poison (as with Catherine de Medici).
Rings are a critical proof of identity, functioning often like today’s credit cards. Romans used it as a sign of love, using iron rings for betrothal. By the 13th century the Church was using the ring as a token of marriage. The Hebrew Bible has the ring as a person’s legal surrogate: “The signet ring is an extension of the hand, with its handwriting and, later, fingerprints.” Regarded as an extension of the heart, it is worn on the fourth finger supposedly linked to the heart by the vein of love as far back as the fifth century CE.
Diderot’s ring of truth, in his novel The Indiscreet Jewels, understands vagina monologues, keeping tally “of visitors and their orgasms,” but is silent regarding the woman’s feelings. Doniger seeks to give voice to this. She selects two contrasting types of rings: those which secure marriage before consummation (the Doris Day scenario) versus the indiscriminate pursuit of jewellery through coition (the Marilyn Monroe gold-digger paradigm). The slut assumption underlies both, i.e. jewellery must have been obtained through sex. In one case it validates the wife’s chastity, in the other the courtesan’s conquests. The problem occurs when a clever wife enters the courtesan’s arena to get a ring from her alienated husband to prove her chastity: “Jewellery and beauty play a game of doubles.” Men give beautiful women jewellery. Women crave jewellery to enhance their beauty so that men give them more, especially a wedding ring, “which magically transforms the Marilyn Monroe type into the Doris Day type.”
One of the recurring motifs is the recovery of a ring thrown into the water that often turns up inside a fish, as with Solomon’s and Shakuntala’s rings, which both loose thoughtlessly. Both need the ring to prove their identities. Solomon working as a cook in the kitchen of a king’s daughter after a demon has tricked him and changed his appearance resembles Nala tricked by a snake into losing his identity and cooking in Damayanti’s kitchen. At times it is a child who takes the place of the ring swallowed by the fish. It is not only Pradyumna who is found inside a fish as Doniger writes, but also Matsyagandha and her twin brother. Such tales incorporate the motif of a husband or wife disguised in animal skin. We find this in the tale of “Buddhu-Bhutum,” the Owl Prince and the Monkey Prince, found in Dakshinaranjan Mitra Majumdar’s marvellous collection of Bengali grandmother’s tales, “Thakurmar Jhuli”.
Another motif is what Freud called the Family Romance where a mother abandons her child fearing scandal. The child is reared elsewhere but returns to claim his right. Doniger cites Oedipus as the prime example, but there is an example in Indian myth too. Mandodari, finding herself pregnant in Ravana’s absence after drinking the blood of sages he had stored, abandons her daughter in water. The child, Sita, is reared by Janaka and returns to cause the destruction of Lanka. In Jain, Egyptian and Jewish stories the ring serves to reveal incest involving siblings and parents. In Kalidasa’s Shakuntala story and its Buddhist variant (in the Katthaharijataka) the ring ensures that the king supports his son whom he has refused to acknowledge earlier. Doniger points out that Kalidasa combines three types of rings: the ring of identity taken from the Jatakas; the ring lost and found in a fish; and the ring that restores memory. This technique Doniger calls “bricolage”, whereby the myth-maker takes a piece of one story to add to another. To the ring Kalidasa adds a magical bracelet—another circular piece of jewellery—on Bharata’s arm. He turns the Mahabharata story of power and inheritance into one about desire and memory. The fish symbolises the recovery and persistence of memory. It does not blink and is deep under water. In children we and our memories survive. But very often the rings found in fish “are fishy excuses” that express repression and ambivalence, letting the man fulfil his secret polygamous desires.
In medieval romances (Yvain, Tristan, Arthur, Ogier) the ring has a triple function of identity, memory and invisibility. It can hide you from everyone. If lost, not only do others not recognise you, but you yourself do not either—a fascinating twist to the tale! A flower garland sometimes replaces the ring of forgetfulness. Doniger should have linked Keats’ re-imagining in “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” here. Shakespeare uses rings in plots about allegations of adultery.
The multiple functions played by the ring in the myths of Siegfried and of Wieland the smith are analysed at length. The naked sword in the bed between man and woman symbolises the impasse created by the man’s rejection of his wife and the desire for a son. Doniger overlooks the different meaning this has in Indian mythology where it is the “asipatra” vow the king observes during a horse-sacrifice. This enforced celibacy gets over only after the queen’s simulated intercourse with the throttled horse. The sexual symbolism is clear. Wagner rearranged elements from Indian and Norse cosmology, the myth of Brunnhilde the Valkyrie and added the conclusion of having her riding back through the fire to Siegfried. Thus he created a new myth, re-arranging “to re-invent a wheel of cosmic death and transfiguration.” Drawing upon the destructive power of the ring of Polycrates of Samos and Shakuntala’s wedding ring of love, Wagner showed that power and love are at odds with each other. This usually involves loss of memory and identity, providing the man with a convenient excuse for having deceived the woman. To Doniger, the ring acts like the hormone Oxytocin. When she asserts that a virgin having a baby was achieved only in Christian mythology she forgets the many kanyas of Indian myth who precede this by far: Madhavi, Satyavati, Kunti and Draupadi, each retaining virginity despite having sons.
One of the most fascinating chapters explores how clever wives use rings and children to win back their husbands who refuse to impregnate them. This is Stith Thompson’s folk theme “AT 891D”: the rejected wife as lover, exemplified in the Kathasaritsagara tale of Muladeva which passes into the Arabian Nights, Boccaccio’s Decameron, Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well and the Old Testament tale of Tamar tricking her father-in-law Judah to beget a child. Lot’s daughters get their father drunk to beget children by him. The Merchant of Venice has the same cross-dressing and play with rings. Variants include the plays of Menander and Terence whose plots reverse the clever wife tales and in which the ring identifies the abandoned child as well as its father. In a unique Arabian Nights tale, the abandoned Budur tracks down and stages a homosexual rape of her husband Qamar-al-Zaman with rings playing a key role. Surprisingly, Doniger, the Hollywood aficionado, does not refer to Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckinridge in this context. In a marvellous sentence Doniger provides a vignette of what happens: “This high-wire act, the self flying through the masquerade to catch the out-stretched hands of some other self, must be performed without any net but the narrative chain-mail made up of rings. And that chain-mail is what preserves these illogical stories.”
The historical scandal of Marie Antoinette’s necklace is drawn out at tedious length without dovetailing into the theme of the ring as it identifies no one. In the last chapter Doniger tries to remedy this by arguing that it is about the mis-recognition of the queen. She describes it very evocatively as “a moment (that) came out of myth…and went back into it.” She finds parallels in Beaumarchais’ The Marriage of Figaro, Rossini’s and Mozart’s operas The Barber of Seville in which the necklace is not significant. As she draws extensively upon Alexandre Dumas, it is puzzling why the earlier incident of Queen Anne’s necklace is not covered, since here it was proof of her chastity (typically, although she was adulterous).
In modern times Doniger discusses the slut assumption in literature (Jane Austen, George Eliot, Maupassant, Henry James, Maugham), i.e. a woman sporting costly jewellery has got it by immorality. She spices up her survey with revealing quotes from Mae West and Elizabeth Taylor confirming this. Movies are also analysed (Random Harvest, Vertigo, Gaslight, Gigi, The Earrings of Madame de…) to show how reality and fantasy merge, with the clever lady using it to convince both husband and lover that she is faithful to him alone and that passing off real jewellery in public as fake to put off theft is not a new gimmick clever women use.
The tenth chapter is about how De Beers launched a campaign to sell diamond rings commemorating divorce and apology (to head-off divorce). They even tried the gimmick of “Management Rings” for macho men, which did not catch on because of its innate femininity. The power of the ring lies not only in its emotional symbolism but also in its market value, particularly in case of a broken engagement or a divorce. The Anglican marriage ceremony’s “With all my worldly good I thee endow” used the ring as the symbol of the husband’s property that the wife was to preserve. The opposite is the legend of the diabolical diamond started by the Church. The Puritans in England tried to abolish wedding rings but people wanted them. The British Parliament even had legislation defending a woman’s right to throw the engagement ring into the river instead of returning it to her fiancé! 21st century women have broken free of the De Beers mythology by either selling diamond rings, buying their own (Doniger mentions Miss Universe Sushmita Sen sporting a 22-carat solitaire and challenging a man to match it or the size of her heart), buying other jewellery, going in for costume jewellery, or just not bothering about jewellery. Doniger laments a new trend in the USA of fathers giving daughters silver purity rings for abstinence (as in the Cinderella story). The girls simply take it off when they do not wish to abstain, and then put it back on, “losing it” temporarily as men do in myths. “Sex, if not love, will always find a way—out of…even the promise embodied in a ring.”
One of the themes that binds these stories together is the eternal triangle of jewellery, sex and money. They may be called love stories, but actually they are about “luxury” i.e. lust and opulence. A man broadcasts his command over wealth and sex by having a woman wear jewellery, while women “use jewellery to negotiate between the carat of sexual bargaining power and the stick of financial dependency.” The movie Sex and the City shows that nothing has changed except into something rich and strange. As Doniger writes so perceptively, “Myths endure precisely because people keep changing them into something that serves their present needs.”
If recognition through a ring is a genus, recognising the spouse through it is a species. Since the number of basic plots usable is limited, it enables the audience to experience delightful anticipation, knowing that it is watching something predictable. That is the secret of the success of movies ringing changes on the same series of plots. Willing suspension of disbelief is integral to it, as in the case of the Pandavas not being recognised despite their flimsy disguises in the kingdom of Virata. The myth-maker is like a rag-and-bones man making new stories out of scraps of old tales like a bricolage, what in Bengal is called a “kantha”, a patchwork quilt. Each culture chooses from among these scraps, of which the ring story has proved to be more popular. Story tellers and audiences collude in preserving myths. “It is the repetition that produces the immortality,” tales keep on returning, like rings thrown into the waters.
But why do myths work? Doniger proposes that they persist because they work at a very deep level, repairing the immoral universe, mitigating uneven relations between rich, lusty men and poor, weak women. Thus, they provide hope that the world can become more moral, meeting our personal emotional needs despite being irrationally romantic. An engrossing read indeed. But why such an inappropriate cover showing a woman holding a fruit when the book is not about woman as Eve? There is a Ravi Varma painting of Dushyant giving Shakuntala the ring that could have been used, as also a modern one showing the ring inside the fish flanked by the two.
As I wrote this, I was powerfully reminded of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets:
Yet, the river we step into is never the same:
we may not change, but we do learn
even while meeting apparently the same self again and again.