Professor Saroj Thakur has a detailed review of the Panchkanya National Seminar here : https://www.boloji.com/articles/1542/panchkanya-of-indian-epics-a-critique
PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION & MANAGEMENT:
Edited Administrative Training Institute Monographs 1-20. Kolkata. 2005-2009:
Edited Samsad Series on Public Administration. Kolkata, 2007-8:
This book compiles 18 papers of which 17 were presented in an international conference held on November 2012 by the Draupadi Dream Trust. The American contributors are Alf Hiltebeitel, the most prolific of Mahabharata (MBH) scholars, and his student Vishva Adluri. The first such study of the epic’s date and reality was in “Mahabharata: Myth or Reality—Differing Views” by S.P. Gupta and K.S. Ramachandran in 1976 (Agam Kala Prakshan, New Delhi).
There are four papers on archaeology, led by B.B. Lal who, in 3 pages, repeats his well-known findings regarding Hastinapura near Meerut with evidence of its abandonment due to floods and the shift to Kaushambi where the same Painted Grey Ware (PGW) has turned up in its lowest level. Udayana ruled in Kaushambi (c. 500 BCE, contemporaneous with Buddha). 24 rulers preceded Udayana till Parikshit, yielding a date of 860 BCE. So, the Kurukshetra war may be dated c. 900 BCE, which falls in the PGW period. The paper is valuable for 13 plates of the findings. Surprisingly, Lal commits the common error that the text began with 8,800 slokas whereas that is the number of riddling verses. The original was 24,000 verses. Why his 1952 findings were not pursued is a mystery. The editors could have clarified this in their introduction.
Dilip Chakrabarti briefly outlines geographical data. Reference to Chinas, Shakas, Yavanas, Hunas and Parasikas along with Ashokan knowledge of the Mediterranean area suggests a period pre 300 BCE. He feels a beginning around 1000 BCE for the composition is not unreasonable.
B.R.Mani deals with the Rajgir region, believing A.D.Pusalkar’s date of 1400 BCE for the war. Rajgir reveals a cyclopean wall as in Mycenae and Tiryns which are dated 1400-1300 BCE. However, excavations at Rajgir, Juafaradih near Nalanda and Ghorakatora near Giyak take us back to 1500 BCE. He urges detailed study at Rajgir for more definite dates.
D.P.Tewari writes on Kampilya (Kampil in Farrukhabad, U.P.), Drupada’s capital, birthplace of Vimala Natha the Jain Tirthankar and of Varahamihir the astronomer, where Charaka also lived. Excavations in 2002-3 dated the earliest of many findings to around 3200 BCE. Rice, barley and grams were grown and amla berries in plenty.
B.N.Narahari Achar’s 56 page paper with 22 illustrations on dating the war through astronomy is very interesting. The text (about 150 references) refers to the war, calamity to the Kuru dynasty, entire armies being destroyed and the population endangered. Each involves different planetary positions. Using Planetarium software he fixes 3067 BCE for the war, agreeing with Raghavan’s 1967 finding. Others, by the same software, have fixed the date as 3022, 2559, 1793, 1478 and 1198 BCE! He rejects these for not considering several planetary references. 3067 BCE is based purely on information in the epic and tallies with Aryabhatta. He pre-dates the Maurya dynasty to 1535-1219 BCE, stressing that Samudragupta is the Priyadarshin of the Rock Edicts III and XIII that mention Antiochus and Ptolemy. He discounts archaeological evidence from Meerut (c.950 BCE) and Bet Dwaraka (1500 BCE) as they do not match the epic descriptions. He demolishes at length criticisms of his proposed date.
G.U.Thite deals with differences from Vedic rituals in the epics and puranas to show that the composers were unaware of their technical details, possibly because the transmitting Sutas were not ritual experts. He asserts that the very elaborate, lengthy Ashvamedha-horse-sacrifice described here with many contradictions is fictitious.
Hiltebeitel’s is a fascinating study of what the MBH tells about its tribal and other histories. He places the Northern edition of the epic to 1st century BCE and the Southern to the beginning of the 3rd century BCE. The references to Greeks, Chinese and Shakas (but not Pahlavas or Kushanas) shows completion before the end of the BCE by late Shunga or Kanva times, possibly by Brahmins of the Kurukshetra region. Hiltebeitel points out that MBH is the first text to see a regional area, Bharatavarsha, as “a total land and a total people set in a still wider word”. It distinguishes the general populace from “the others”, viz. tribals, barbarians etc who were a special danger to Kuru kings. He argues that Kuru is a MBH invention featureing in no early or late Vedic text. MBH uses only one term for tribals, he asserts, “atavika,” (forest-dweller). Yet, “Nishada” frequently indicates them in both epics. Contesting the propositions of international and Indian scholars, his analysis concludes that MBH is not an oral bardic epic about a Kuru tribe as is mostly supposed.
S.G.Bajpai’s case is that as the Vedas are the gift of the Sarasvati, so the MBH is of Ganga. He deals with the rise of Ganga culture from Shantanu to the end of the dynasty in the 4th century BCE, with the text spanning a millennium from 800 BCE to 200 CE. The primacy of Ganga among rivers is highlighted with the MBH providing her myth and history.
Michel Danino studies the epics socio-cultural impact. Its retelling in every region, including tribal, is a testament to the cultural integration it brought about along with the Ramayana. He points out the mistake of locating the war in 3000 BCE because that is the Early Harappan phase when cities had not emerged and cultures were Neolithic or Chalcolithic, but nothing like what the epic describes. He prefers a date not before 500 BCE.
V.K.Gupta, one of the editors, describes the Vrishni Cult in the Vraja region around Mathura. Varshaneya is the most frequently used epithet for the clan in the epic. Kautilya (4th century BCE) speaks of war between Vrishnis and Dvaipayana (Vyasa?). Earlier, the Brahmanas and Panini also mention them. Gupta suggests that Tosha in the Mora well inscprition in Mathura Museum is the village Tosh, mentioned in the Bhagavata Cult. An important site is the Chamunda Tila pillar capital whose symbols indicate the same cult. An ancient structure in Vrindavan on the river front has Mauryan and Shunga/Kushana/Gupta bricks with inscriptions referring to Bhagavata. Another inscription on a carved door-jamb in the museum shows a bhagavata temple in the 1st century BCE. A late-Kushana period sculpture depicts the four forms (chatur-vyuha) of Vasudeva-Krishna, his elder brother, son and grandson. There is also numismatic evidence from 4th-3rd century BCE of the Bhagavata-Vrishni Cult which was popular as far as Afghanistan, Vidisha and Malhar, originating in Vraja. 12 excellent colour plates are provided.
In another paper Gupta describes the 84 krosha (1 krosha = 3 km) circumambulation of Braj (Vraja), the villages of cowherds near Mathura laid out in the Mathura-mandala section of the Varaha Purana, with its own dialect Brajbhasha. This tradition was founded by Narayan Bhatta in 1552 CE identifying 333 spots. A significant insight is that in the Skanda Purana’s Shrimadbhagavata Khanda, Krishna’s great grandson Vajranabha is made king by Arjuna not of Indraprastha, as in the epic, but of Mathura and, at Parikshit’s behest, he re-establishes the places related to Krishna’s life there. The Jaina text Vividhatirthakalpa of Jinaprabhasuri (14th CE first half) mentions a pilgrimage covering 5 spots and 12 woods.. Archaeology has dated half of the sites to the PGW period (1200 to 400 BCE), most of the rest to early CE. A valuable map of the area is added.
Haripriya Rangarajan deals with Draupadi as the manifestation of the supreme feminine energy and argues that she was the first to fall in the final journey as she had to return to Vaikuntha following Krishna’s death. Being in human form, she had to suffer like humans. The presentation is not convincing.
Nanditha Krishna’s valuable paper deals with MBH in the reliefs of Angkor Vat after surveying the depictions in art since 800 BCE showing the Bhagavata cult, with as many as 51 plates. In Angkor Krishna is the hero as his childhood exploits are depicted. Here his companions are not milkmaids but cowherds. He is not the erotic god but always a warrior and ruler. She claims that the four-faced figure of Angkor Thom is Vishnu. Nowhere is that god described as having four heads except in Cambodian reliefs.
G.D.Bakshi writes on strategy, war and weaponry in the epic. He compares Krishna’s strategy to the British one of making Germany and Russia fight in WW-2. The evolution of the art of warfare is studied in terms of localized revolutions in military affairs (RMA) and the MBH paradigm examined in terms of battle formations, wearing down the foe and rules of fair-fight. He fails to deal with the last concept being consistently violated in the war.
Kavita Sharma’s paper is on P.K.Balakrishnan’s novel, And Now Let Me Sleep which is a series of nightmares, dreams and flashbacks involving mostly Draupadi but also Yudhishthira and Kunti. She fails to note how the novel evades dealing with Karna ordering the stripping of Draupadi, by having her see him reproaching himself for it. It focuses on glorifying him and making Draupadi imagine her as his consort at the end.
Vishwa Adluri’s is a very significant study of the architecture of the MBH as having a double-beginning with frame settings creating a cyclical narrative accommodating both pravritti and moksha, while holding them apart. He states, but does not explain, that the Gita echoes the lament of Dhritarashtra in the beginning, while the Narayaniya in the Mokshadharma Parva reverses the descending cosmology in the beginning of the Adi Parva. Vishnu is the moksha/nivritti figure while Indra/Bhishma is of pravritti. The Gita teaches living in pravritti serenely. Narayaniya breaks through to Moksha. Adluri is the first to note that Shaunaka refers to Janamejaya’s massacre of snakes as a sacrifice, whereas Ruru, to whom his father tells the tale, calls it “violence”. MBH creates steps beginning with violence, then sacrifice and finally moksha. He presents a new way of seeing how the multiple narrations are related. The outer and inner frames are actually sheaths, where one can add yet another tale. The whole Vaishampayana narrative of the snake massacre is contained in Ugrashrava’s account, all of which is doubled and enclosed in the Pramati-Ruru frame. MBH is an ahimsa text on structural and semantic levels and violent on the aesthetic level. The architectonics is made up of two themes: eternity and time. He argues for going beyond the current literary approach of scholars to an aesthetic one of shared and disputed judgements about how we experience the text. This will not contrast history and myth, but focus on narrative elements common to both.
Savita Gaur’s short paper studies the Shanti Parva as a manual of practical wisdom, noting some significant teaching about principles of governance and harmonious living. There is no clamouring for rights. Instead, a stress on duties of all officials and subjects to benefit society. The qualities emphasised are for all time and all people. Human dignity is stressed as supreme. Gaur states that the epic’s ethics are based on the Upanishads, which raise it to a spiritual plane. Equanimity is the key to successful and blissful living.
Sibesh Bhattacharya’s profound paper discusses literary devices used in the epic “to break free of the time-space constraints.” He subscribes to the tradition that it was orally narrated (still done in parts of India), which Hiltebeitel has challenged forcefully as a fictional trope adopted by the composers to feign antiquity. He adopts the usual diachronic approach to the narrative structure, that Adluri has so significantly departed from, to provide revealing insights. He shows how the placing of Dhritarashtra’s lament at the beginning defies the chronology of events:“The form of this post-factor overview is one of prognosis” dissolving time-space boundaries. It also provides a tragic dimension to the epic from the loser’s viewpoint. The epic’s narrative mode is conversational story-telling, not dialogical except in the Gita. It is very significant that the audience for this very violent saga of Kshatriya massacre is celibate ascetic Brahmans in a peaceful forest ashram. This duality characterises the locales in the epic. Through such devices, the epic breaks out of the conventional boundaries of time and space.
A very impressive collection indeed, well published, with few printer’s devils marring the production. It ought to have had at least a line about each contributor. The insights have not lost their value over the six years it took to publish it.
The Mahabharata of Kavi Sanjay, Pradip Bhattacharya (tr), Vol. I and II, Dasgupta & Co. Pvt. Ltd, 2019, p.637, Rs. 1495.
Kavi Sanjay translated the Mahabharata into Bengali in the early part of the 15th century sitting in a village in the eastern-most part of the country. It was a path-breaking effort – he brought the epic within the reach of the common man breaking the Brahminical shackle of Sanskrit and that he did without any royal patronage. Around the same time Krittibas did the same with the Ramayana, with royal patronage. After 600 years this historically important work is brought to the attention of a greater readership by Dr. Pradip Bhattacharya by translating it into English for the first time, thereby rendering a yeomen’s service to the history of Bengali literature.
In fact the 15th century saw an efflorescence in the field of vernacular literature throughout the country. It was also a period when the Bhakti movement was at its peak. Annamacharya, Jakanna, Dhurjati, Mallana, Atukuri Molla, Pedanna, Pothana, Srinatha, Thimanna, Thirumalamma (Telugu), Chamarasa, Purandaradasa, Niyaguna Sirayogi, Kumara Vyasa (Kannad), Bhalan, Padmanabha, Sridhar Vyas (Gujarati), Ananta Dasa, Jasobanta Dasa, Sarala Dasa (Odiya), Pitambara Dvija, Sankaradeva, Gopala Mishra (Assamese/Kamrupi), Kanhupatra (Marathi), Namboothiri (Malayalam), Bhagat Paramanand (Punjabi), Pipa (Rajasthani), Vidyapati (Maithili), Krittibas, Sanjay (Bengali), Kabir, Ravidas, Surdas (Hindi), quickly followed by Kanaka Dasa, Lakshmisha (Kannad), Mirabai, Tulsidas (Hindi) and many others in the 16th century – all of them wrote copiously in local languages and dialects, giving up Sanskrit though many were adept in Sanskrit.
Those were the days when literature meant only Sanskrit literature. Brahmins were the guardians of literature and they would not allow any vernacular trespass in this domain. In fact, the pundits despised those who made any attempt to write in vernacular. It was considered to be a sin to write in any vernacular Language. In Bengal they even cursed the vernacular writers/listeners, Ashtadashapuranani Ramasya charitani cha I Bhashayam Manavah SrutvaRaurabam Narakam Brajet II (By listening to the eighteen Puranas and Rama’s story in vernacular, man goes to the hell named Rauraba.) Needless to say that till this time they had royal patronage.
But slowly the ambience changed with the advent of Muslim rulers. They wanted to hear the stories contained in Sanskrit literature, not in Sanskrit but in local languages which they could understand. The Hindu royalty too, therefore, found it politically correct and safe to follow suit. This is how a supportive ambience was slowly created in which vernacular literature flourished.
There was, however, a difference. Most of the vernacular authors did not follow the Sanskrit text verbatim. They discarded what they thought was not necessary for the edification of their intended audience – the royalty, because they would not appreciate and the common man, usually the illiterate and rustic, because they would not understand. So, all the didactic portions were edited out. On the other hand, they included folk stories people were familiar with, customs they knew and stories born out of the author’s own imagination which they would appreciate. They dug deep into social memory, borrowed copiously from oral traditions, from stories they heard from itinerant rhapsodes and their social environment and inserted all this into their work including stories they themselves created. Krittibas introduced Veerbahu, Taranisen, Mahiravan in his Ramayana; Sarala Das included more than 150 folk stories in his Odiya Mahabharata and Sanjay too did the same. It was indeed a matter of great courage to change the content of the epics and write in vernacular in a hostile ambience.
Kavi Sanjay wrote his Mahabharata in early 15th century. It was popular in East Bengal but not very well-known in the western part. Dinesh Chandra Sen (1866-1939), the famous historian of Bengali Literature, following a hunch that the Mahabharata must have been translated in Bengali somewhere in the 150-year hiatus between Krittibas and Kashiram Das, set out in search of that and after a lot of arduous travelling, discovered the oldest Bengali translation of the epic, Kavi Sanjay’s Mahabharata in Srihatta in East Bengal. Along with that he also found many other manuscripts, e.g., Mahabharata of Kabindra Parameshwar, Nityananda Ghosh, Rameswar Nandi, etc. He bought the manuscript and handed it over to the Government of Bengal. From this time onwards (1892-93) Sanjay’s Mahabharata became known in the western part of Bengal too.
However, most probably this translation did not become popular. One does not find much mention of this book in the contemporary literary discussions or domestic story-telling. One reason could be the vast popularity of Kashidashi Mahabharata and Kaliprasanna Singha’s Mahabharata in Bengali prose. By the time Sanjay made his appearance in Calcutta, the readership was already captured by these two and Sanjay could not find a place in the world of Bengali readers. The second reason perhaps was the language of Sanjay. It was old Bengali mixed with words of the local dialect of East Bengal. It was necessary for Sanjay to use such a language which his rustic audience could easily follow. The people of the western part of Bengal must have found it quite difficult to negotiate. Dinesh Chandra Sen himself writes, “The rustic language and the complications of the vibhaktis (case-ending/verb-inflection) is irritating in many places and the patience of reading it from beginning to end can only be found in an immensely patient reader.” Therefore Kavi Sanjay’s Mahabharata once again receded from public memory and remained in some libraries as resource material for research scholars.
Given this background, Dr. Pradip Bhattacharya’s translation of this Bengali classic into English is extremely important on many counts. First, he has resurrected this path-breaking work of Bengali literature and has once again brought it out to public attention. Being the first-ever Bengali translation of the epic, Sanjay’s Mahabharata certainly deserves this exposure. Secondly, Bhattacharya has successfully handled the very difficult task of translating Sanjay’s language. Wading through the words of this work, which are not only unfamiliar but also unavailable in extant dictionaries, is not an easy task. Bhattacharya has done it through 600+ pages. A creditable performance indeed! Thirdly, by presenting this classic in English he has brought it to the attention of a larger readership. This will go a long way to help in the field of research on the history of Bengali literature. It is pertinent to mention here that this is the first ever English translation of Sanjay’s Mahabharat.
Kavi Sanjay retold (not really translated) the story of Mahabharata in Bengali for illiterate village folk “because Vyasa’s salvific nectar, being in Sanskrit, was not available to the public,” quotes Bhattacharya. However, nothing much is known about Sanjay. Whatever little information we have about him is gathered from his ‘bhonitas’ (end-verse of each section). He was a resident of Laur village in Sunamganj subdivision of Srihatta district in north-eastern Bengal. Though Bhattacharya says, “Sonjoy was a Brahmin pundit of Bharadvajagotra”, Sanjay himself has not claimed to be a Brahmin. He has merely mentioned in one of the bhonitas that he was born in the celebrated Bharadvajavamsha (family). Some non-Brahmin families in Bengal also belong to the Bharadvajagotra. Dinesh Chandra Sen notes, “A very old Vaidya family belonging to the Bharadvaja clan still exists in Bikrampur.”
Sanjay’s Mahabharata appears to be an enigma. Many manuscript versions seem to be available and being handwritten, there are differences possibly due to the mistakes of the copyists. Dinesh Chandra Sen observes, “Like the Ramayana of Krittibas, a pure version of Sanjay’s Mahabharata is very rare. I had seen only one with the late Akrur Chandra Sen.” He however has not mentioned whether the copy he obtained for the Government of Bengal from Sri Anantaram Sharma of Srisulagram was an authentic one or not. Dr. Manindra Kumar Ghosh studied about 70 manuscripts from Kamrup, Silchar, Srihatta, Tripura, Chattagram, Mymensingh, Dhaka, Rajshahi, Comilla and their surroundings, i.e., modern Assam and Bangladesh, before composing his edition. This was published by Calcutta University in 1969. The book under review by Bhattacharya is the English version of this edition. While Bhattacharya’s tremendous effort serves a broader purpose of attracting the attention of the larger non-Bengali readership, it is necessary to make a serious effort to bring this remarkable work of Sanjay to the notice of the Bengali-speaking people. Only Calcutta University can be expected to do it with the vigour it deserves.
As mentioned earlier Kavi Sanjay did not really translate the epic. The main frame of the epic remains the same but the tapestry Sanjay weaves contains different hues. He just retold the story of the Mahabharata in his own style in Bengali for the entertainment of his village audience. For that he employed various methods because of which it has become quite different from the Vyasan version. All philosophical and didactic portions, as noted earlier, were removed in their entirety. As Bhattacharya says, “…he pursues a single thread to tell the tale, omitting the numerous ancillary stories and philosophical discourses that litter Vyasa’s composition, while adding inventions of his own.” Consequently we find that in Sanjay’s composition the Vana Parva, Stree Parva, Sauptika Parva, Shanti Parva, Anushasana Parva, Maushala Parva, etc are very short. In fact, the Shanti Parva is covered in just three pages (87 verses), Anushasana Parva in three and a half (97 verses) and Sauptika Parva also in three and a half (112 verses). Similar differences exist is almost all Parvas. Secondly, we find that Sanjay’s Mahabharata has 21 chapters instead of 18. He has added 4 new chapters, namely, Gada Parva, Aishik Parva, Daho Parva and Sthana Parva and has excluded Mahaprasthanika Parva. These new Parvas are just parts of the preceding Parvas. Therefore the reason for this division is not clear at all. Moreover, one notices that though the Mahaprasthanika Parva has been excluded, the contents of the Parva are included in the Svargarohana Parva. This gives rise to another confusion. The Mahaprasthanika Parva is omitted in the latest edition of Sanjay’s Mahabharata edited by Dr. Manindra Kumar Ghosh. Apparently, such was not the case to begin with. The copy collected by Dinesh Chandra Sen did have a Mahaprasthanika Parva. At one place he observes, “In the Bharata authored by Sanjay, the Vana Parva is completed in 4 pages, Anushasana Parva in 3 pages, Mahaprasthanika Parva in 3 pages and Sauptika Parva in 5 pages; consequently in most places the descriptions are very brief.” Another interesting observation – the sale deed of the manuscript (bought by Dinesh Chandra Sen) describes the book as “This eighteen book Bharat…is completed in 789 pages…”. So, that manuscript had eighteen chapters including the Mahaprasthanika Parva. Dr. Ghosh examined more than 70 manuscripts. Did he not find any that fits this description? It may be interesting to note that another 15th century Mahabharata in Odiya by Sarala Das also had Parvas named Gada Parva and Aishika Parva. Perhaps a line of communication existed even in those early times since both Bengal and Orissa were parts of the same political entity, named, Panchgauda.
Kavi Sanjay is highly inventive. His work is littered with stories which are not available in Vyasa. The source of these stories is not known. Many authors and researchers surmise that he must have collected these from the Magadhi Bhats, the travelling raconteurs who sang the stories of old kings, the Puranas, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as they travelled through the countryside. On many occasions these stories took on local colours which changed their entire complexion. We can perhaps discuss some of his departures here.
Sanjay’s Mahabharata begins neither with Naimisharanya nor with the story of Sarama. It begins with Takshaka gifting his daughter, Sharada to Parikshit, with the hope that the king would protect him from Garuda. Later, Takshaka goes on to kill his son-in-law. Quite dramatic. The Brahmin Kashyapa whom Takshaka bribes not to save Parikshit, is turned into a folk character, a snake-bite-curer, Ojha Dhanvantari of Shankhapur.
Janamejaya marries Kankabati against the advice of Vyasa. Queen Vapushtama of Vyasa is nowhere to be seen. A new story is introduced here – Janamejaya insults sage Rishyasringa and by his curse suffers from bhagapida (Syphilitic sores). On Vyasa’s advice, he listens to a recital of the epic by Vaishampayana and is cured. The Dushyanta-Shakuntala story is based on Abhijnana Shakuntalam of Kalidasa and the Shantanu-Ganga story draws upon the Mahabhisha-Jahnavi narrative of Devi Bhagavata Purana. Here, Shantanu is Kuru’s son, not Pratipa’s. Shiva berates Ganga and forces her to marry Shantanu.
The most interesting departure is in the story of Chitrangad and Vichitravirya. Chitrangad dies, not in a battle with Gandharva Chitrangad, but of consumption. Vichitravirya, curious to find if Bhishma hid women in his palace, violates his injunction not to enter his palace in his absence and is crushed to death by Bhishma’s jousting partner, a thousand-eyed elephant!
Sanjay’s Karna is born out of Kunti’s ears and that is why he is named Karna. In the burning of Khandava episode, four survive, namely, sage Lomasha, Surabhi, Danavendra (Mayadanava) and Vishvakarma. Except Mayadanava, the other three are Sanjay’s invention. There is no mention of Takshaka’s son Ashvasena and sage Mandapala and his four sons, survivors in Vyasa’s Khandava conflagration.
In Sabha Parva Sanjay spins another interesting folk-tale. Arjuna, while going to Lanka during his journey of conquest, meets Hanuman. Since Rama had already broken the bridge, Arjuna builds one with arrows. Hanuman, thinking that the bridge would not be able to bear his weight, climbs on to it and is astonished to find that the bridge does not collapse. Then to his amazement he finds that Narayana himself is supporting the bridge. On their return from Lanka, after getting a large tribute from Vibhishana, Hanuman gifts Arjuna a terrifying flag featuring himself. In Vyasa, Hanuman never meets Arjuna but gives an assurance to Bhima that he would be present on the flag of Arjuna during the war and deliver murderous roars which would make the enemy weak and help the Pandavas destroy their enemies.
Sanjay invents another story in which Duryodhana sends Drona to the Pandavas to ask for fruits of a tree that does not grow on earth and he would curse them if they fail. Due to their collective merit, a tree grows on Yudhishthira’s palm and they present its fruit to Drona.
In Udyoga Parva Sanjay brings in Kakalilasur, an asuric crow perhaps, who, perched on a tree in Kurukshetra, tells his son that he has seen many battles in different ages and has observed that those who take the eastern side of the field, wins, e.g., the battles between Rama and Ravana, Durga and Mahishasura, Kaurava–Pandava, etc. Bhima, resting under that tree, hears it and during the battle, the Pandavas take the eastern side.
In Bhishma Parva, right at the beginning, is the story of Lata, the Brahmachandal (Brahmin outcaste). Another of Sanjay’s wonderful inventions in which he has fused the stories of Vyasa’s Ekalavya and Skanda Purana’s Barbareek. Srimadbhagavat Gita is replaced by a small 36-verse section describing Arjuna’s vishada and Krishna’s advice.
But one of the highlights of Sanjay’s creativity flashes out in the Drona Parva. After Abhimanyu’s death, a terribly distraught Draupadi leads the Yadava women in a fearsome nocturnal attack against the Kauravas. Krishna’s wives, daughters-in-law, Revati, Uttara, Subhadra, etc join the battle. Uttara prays and a full moon lights up the battle-field. Draupadi displays tremendous prowess with bow, sword and mace. She knocks Drona, Kripa and Ashvatthama unconscious, thrashes Duryodhana and Duhshasana but does not kill them because of the vows of Bhima and Dhrishtadyumna. Uttara kills Rudradeva, Abhimanyu’s killer (not named in Vyasa). Subhadra has Jayadratha bound and kicked by her maids. Many Kaurava heroes are slain in the battle. Having soundly routed the Kauravas, they return to the camp and scoff at the Pandavas for failing to protect Abhimanyu. This heroic performance is repeated in Ashvamedha Parva after Bibek routs the Pandava host but the women are defeated there by the young Bibek because of his vaishnava bhakti. It is a remarkable tale and as Bhattacharya comments, “These Amazonian women are unique to Kobi Sonjoy’s imagination.”
Karna Parva has a new story of Shiva destroying the three aerial fortresses of Tarakaksha, Makaraksha and Vidyut. Shalya Parva is divided into two parts, Shalya and Gada. Gada Parva deals entirely with the Bhima-Duryodhana battle. Similarly Sauptika Parva too is bifurcated into Sauptika and Aishika, the latter describing mainly the Brahmashir episode. Ashvatthama disappears after the Sauptika in Vyasa but in Sanjay we find him in Daho Parva participating in the cremation of the dead and in Sthana Parva too going to his dwelling by the Raja’s command: “Bidur, Sudhorma, Oshvotthama and Dhononjoy,/by the raja’s command went to their own dwellings.”Stree Parva too has been divided in to two, Stree and Daho. The logic of these divisions is not clear.
Sanjay has been particularly ruthless in dealing with Vyasa’sShanti Parva and Anushasana Parva. Two of the largest Parvas of Vyasa have been reduced to just 7 sections, 3 in Shanti Parva and four in Anushasana. Also, all four episodes of Sanjay’s Anushasana are from Vyasa’s Ashvamedha Parva and the three of Shanti Parva, with some deviations, are from Vyasa’s Stree and Shanti Parva. In between Shanti and Anushasana Sanjay has slipped in a two-page Sthana Parva, (could be a scribal error for snana) describing the consecration of Yudhishthira, complete in 56 verses. This too is a part of Vyasa’s Shanti Parva.
The Ashvamedha Parva in Sanjay is not of Vyasa but of Jaimini. This is the largest chapter of the book. Of course, he has written it in his own style again, editing, excluding, including, changing names and sequences, etc. This Parva, being very large with too many deviations, calls for a more detailed discussion.
Jaimini’s Ashvamedha Parva is completed in 5147 verses, whereas Sanjay’s has only 4649. Jaimini’s sacrificial horse is white, “as bright as cow’s milk or Kunda flower or moonlight or snow.” Its tail should be yellow and ears, black. Sanjay’s horse is very colourful – “Golden-hued horse, back copper-coloured,/ four hooves white, ears yellow-hued,/ Dark face, tail of deep black colour/…on the forehead, white, moon-like glow.”
Sanjay brings in Radha when Yudhishthira addresses Krishna as “Radhakanto.” She is not there in Vyasa. Radha comes into ancient lore in Brahmavaivarta Purana later.
At several places Bhima ‘pranams’ Krishna. In Vyasa and Jaimini he does not as he is elder to Krishna. In Sanjay, Surya gives his own chariot to his grandson Vrishaketu, driven by his own charioteer, Arun, during the Anushalva battle. In Jaimini, Arun just brings a divine chariot to Vrishaketu. After this, for some reason, Sanjay goes back to Vyasa to include the story of Parikshit’s birth which Jaimini excludes.
During the tour of conquest, Jaimini’s Queen Jvala, wife of Niladhvaja of Mahishmati, is renamed as Jana by Sanjay, thereby creating an iconic character of Bengali drama. Dying, she becomes an arrow and enters Babhruvahana’s quiver, which he uses to slay Arjuna later. The story of her transformation into a death-arrow is more dramatic in Jaimini than in Sanjay. The story of Chandi turning into stone remains the same except that the sage Saubhari becomes Saurabhi and Uddalak, Udyan.
In the Hamsadhvaja episode, Sudhanva’s sister is named Kuvala by Jaimini. Sanjay changes it to Kuvalaya. Andhaka becomes Andhika. Vrishaketu claims Parashurama as his guru! Most interestingly, Sanjay introduces a third battle after the battles of Sudhanva and Suratha – a battle with Subeg. As an author he does have the liberty of inventing as many battles as he wants. The problem is that the king has no son named Subeg. Besides Sudhanva and Suratha, the king has three other sons, named, Sudorshon, Soborno and Suropati (Subala, Sama and Sudarshana in Jaimini). Sanjay could have chosen any name from these three. Obviously, it was a mistake on Sanjay’s part. He should have remembered that Subeg had already appeared in the story much earlier as Yauvanashva’s son and fought a great battle with Bhima, Vrishaketu and Meghavarna. In Jaimini, Sudhanva is the youngest son and in Sanjay he is the eldest.
The Jaimini horse hereafter enters the enchanted forest. But Sanjay’s horse goes to the country of Kirat-Jobon, Trigarta and Pragjyotishpur where Arjuna defeats Vajradatta, Bhagadatta’s son. In the enchanted forest Jaimini’s Brahmin Akritavrana remains un-named in Sanjay.
Jaimini built the story of Babhruvahana with a lot of imagination, poetic finesse and affection on Vyasa’s skeletal frame. Sanjay’s story is quite faithful to Jaimini in content but rather cut and dried in description and considerably edited. It is a simple, straightforward narration, unfortunately without the artistry of Jaimini. Also, it does not have the story of Kusha-Lava’s battle with Rama and his brothers over the sacrificial horse – a striking example of Jaimini’s creative genius. The pomegranate-grove story of Ulupi too is excluded. Arjuna calls Chitrangada a veshya, prostitute, in Sanjay while in Jaimini he calls her a Vaishya woman, “a telling instance of erroneous transmission from oral recital to written text,” says Bhattacharya.
Interestingly, Sanjay has brought in Ekachakra as the dwelling place of the Rakshasa king, Bhishana, Baka’s son. It is quite possible since Bhima had killed Baka at Ekachakra. This possibility did not strike Jaimini. Medoha, the Brahmarakshasa mentor of Bhishana, remains un-named in Sanjay.
Sanjay’s story of Mayuradhvaja and Tamradhvaja, though shortened, remains the same as Jaimini’s. But while exiting from Mayuradhvaja’s city, his sacrificial horse too joins Arjuna’s and hereafter Arjuna travels with two horses in Jaimini. Sanjay’s Arjuna continues the journey with one horse.
In the next story, King Viravarma of Sarasvatapura and his daughter, Malini, have become Birobrahma and Rotnaboli in Sanjay and the kingdom has not been named. Yama, the lord of death, marries Rotnaboli/Malini. But the highly interesting description of the groom’s entourage consisting of all the diseases is entirely missing in Sanjay.
The story of King Chandrahasa of Kuntalapura is one of the highpoints of Jaimini’s work. Sanjay, for reasons unknown, has cut the story short ruthlessly. The king’s city is not named. His younger son (Padmaksha in Jaimini) is named Modon at one place and Pronoto at another. Madana is the name of the future brother-in-law of Chandrahasa in Jaimini. Most unfortunately the incident which is central to the entire story—Vishaya replacing the word visha (poison) with her name Vishaya in her father’s letter to her brother, Madana—is handled extremely shabbily thereby depriving the enthralling story of much of its essence.
Thereafter, the horse reaches the sage, Bokrodonto (Bakadalbhya of Jaimini). Here, too, Sanjay has excluded many interesting descriptions and completely edited out the exhilarating story of the many-faced Brahmas.
From there Jaimini’s horse goes directly to Sindhu, but Sanjay’s horse travels through many kingdoms—Magadh, Chedi, Kashi, Kirat, Jobon, etc.—and finally reaches Sindhu of Jayadratha. In Jaimini, the young king, un-named, dies out of fear on hearing of Arjuna’s arrival and is resurrected by Krishna but in Sanjay the young king fearlessly wages war against Arjuna.
Jaimini’s horse then goes back to Hastinapura but Sanjay brings it back to Champa. Here Sanjay records his biggest story, possibly his own creation, which he himself describes as “an impossible tale” – the story of Bibek, son of Sudhanva. Impossible indeed! As soon as he is born, without even being washed, Bibek, to avenge his father’s death, raises an army of “boys of his age”, trains them in archery, goes to battle and defeats all the vaunted generals of Arjuna’s army, including Arjuna himself, Bhima, Nakula, Sahadeva, Hanuman and finally, Draupadi’s female army. No weapon can hurt him as he is protected by the slime of his mother’s womb! This incredible story ends with his withdrawal from battle at the request of his grandfather, Hamsadhvaja. Not only that, he uses the Gorud (Garuda) weapon to release the enemy host from the Nagpash (snake-noose) and then the Varuna weapon to rain ambrosia to revive all the fallen soldiers.
From here the horse goes to the kingdoms of Ugrasen, Kuntibhoja, Panchal, and Gandhar before arriving at Hastinapura for the conclusion of the sacrifice. The yajna is then concluded without further ado. Sanjay does not drastically change the plot here. Krishna returns to Dvaraka, which in Jaimini he does not. The identity of the golden mongoose is not revealed here whereas in Jaimini he is Krodha (Anger), who, cursed by Jamadagni, had turned into a mongoose.
In Ashramavasa and Mausala Parvas Sanjay follows Vyasa faithfully except that, in Vyasa, Dhritarashtra, Gandhari and Kunti go to the hermitage of Rajarshi Shatajupa, king of Kekaya, but in Sanjay they go to Vyasa’s hermitage. In Vyasa’s Mausala, Krishna is on the ground, immersed in maha-yoga, when Jara strikes him. In Sanjay, he is lying on Arjuna’s lap on a branch of a Sal tree. There are some such departures.
Sanjay’s Swargarohana Parva is a merged version of Vyasa’s Mahaprasthanika and Swargarohana. Moreover, it is quite elaborate and has stories not available in Vyasa, namely, Draupadi’s abduction by Meghnada and her rescue, destruction of the Kiratas by Bhima, the Rudra women, Leelavati, the sages, etc. Sanjay names all the places where Draupadi and the Pandavas fall, e.g., Draupadi at Dvaipayon Tirtha, Sahadeva at Padmarag Stone Tirtha, and so on. In Sanjay’s story of the dog, Yudhishthira is completely bereft of the Vyasan compassion. He just boards Indra’s chariot and Indra puts the dog in after which Dharma reveals himself. Indra then takes him to Yama’s kingdom where he sees hell. Then he goes to the abodes of Brahma and Vishnu and finally to Shveta-dveepa where he meets his kin, becomes king and lives happily ever after, surrounded and served by friend and foe. With that “This magical, fairy-tale version of the Mahabharata” as Bhattacharya calls it, comes to an end.
Sanjay’s composition appears to be performance-based. It is interspersed with an interesting feature named Lachari, which Bhattacharya translates as Long or Lengthy Metre. Lachari involves couplets of twenty syllables, sung and accompanied by dance. The couplets are sung in various ragas and raginis of Indian classical music, such as, Basant, Kamod, Bhatial (Bhatiar), Shree, Barari and Pathamanjari. The ragas to be sung are indicated in the text itself [Lachari: Pothomonjori (Patamanjari) Raga], though some of the Lacharis are without such directions. Bhattacharya writes, “It is clear, therefore, that Sanjay’s composition was a recital interspersed with song and dance.” A form of Lachari or Lachadi is also known as Tripadi, a trinomial metre in Bengali and Sanskrit poetry.
Readers may find Bhattacharya’s translation somewhat difficult to follow. The syntax may appear a bit strange. That is probably because Bhattacharya is experimenting—he is trying to retain the flavour of Sanjay’s narration. Sanjay’s language, as said earlier, is difficult, bordering on irritating. In a translation it is not only important to deliver the content, it is also important to make an effort to create the ambience of the composition. An example from Bhattacharya’s translation will give an idea:
“Good and ill all the Dispenser makes us do,
to enquiry am I joined, tell all the time.” (Korno Porbo, 1/19)
However, after a while the reading gets easier and enjoyable as the reader gradually gets used to the syntax.
For the same reason he has brought in another innovation with regard to the spelling of the names. He has tried to retain the typical rounded off Bengali pronunciation of the names. He writes in the Acknowledgement, “In order to provide a flavour of Bengali pronunciation, the proper nouns have been spelled accordingly, except for Sanskrit words occurring in the Oxford English Dictionary…”. Therefore, here Sanjay is Sonjoy, Karna is Korno, Draupadi is Droupodi and Patamanjari is Pothomonjori. Perhaps as a consequence, Pradip Bhattacharya himself has become Prodeep Bhottacharjyo!
The translation is preceded by an Acknowledgement and Notes, a Preface in which he has traced a bit of literary history, described the background of the book and its author, compared Vyasa, Jaimini and Sanjay and Kashiram Das, Vyasa and Sanjay. At the end of the book, there is an explanation of Arjuna’s ten names and an exhaustive and helpful Glossary.
The two-volume book is very neatly produced. The printing of the double-column text is excellently executed. The paper used is of high quality. The two books are presented in a nicely conceived card-board box, with photographs of terracotta temple panels of Bengal printed on both sides of the box. The same photographs are reproduced on the front and back cover of the books, displaying two episodes from the epic – Draupadi Svayamvara and Arjuna piercing the earth and providing Bhishma with water. There is one more plate inside Volume 1 depicting Narayana lying on his Naga-bed. These are from Mondal Chhototaraf Temple of Hadal, Narayanpur and Jorbangla Temple of Bankura. However, the printers’ devils have not spared even a quality production like this book. They have a habit of creeping through the most vigorous proof correction.
The book is worthy of being in one’s collection, not only for the literary value of its content but also for the aesthetic quality of its presentation.
MAHABHARATA IN TRANSLATION
PRADIP BHATTACHARYA, trans. from Bengali, The Mahabharata of Kavi Sanjaya, Volumes I & II, Das Gupta & Co., Kolkata, 2019, pp. 637, Rs. 1495/-
While Kaliprasanna Sinha (1841-1870) is the most renowned and popular Bengali translator of Mahabharata in prose, Haridas Siddhantavagish is more known to researchers, and Kashiram Das’s 16th-century retelling, Kashidasi Mahabharata, is the most popular rendering in verse, few know that there had been Kavi Sanjaya in the 15th century, who can be considered the Adi Kavi of Bengal in the Mahabharata genre of translation and retelling. This is surprising given that the Kavi has his place secured in the cultural history of Bengal courtesy Munindra Kumar Ghosh’s edited ‘Kavi Sanjaya Birochito Mahabharata’ published by Calcutta University in 1969, restoring Sanjaya’s Mahabharata written in unique poyar metre (each line of the rhymed couplet consisting of eight syllables followed by a caesura and six syllables) in panchali form. Despite Ghosh’s historic effort, evidently, Sanjaya has not been much in Mahabharata discourse, either academic or popular, until now. After fifty years of his work, Dr. Pradip Bhattacharya resurrects him from slipping into the recesses of cultural memory once again, but to a wider world audience this time through his verse-by-verse English translation, perhaps re-confirming the ironic dictum that Bengalis do not wake up to their glories without the involvement of English.
Bhattacharya’s new venture—a project sanctioned by West Bengal Government’s Higher Education Department through the Netaji Institute of Asian Studies— comes in two hard-bound volumes, beautifully encased in dignified brown overtone, and printed on quality paper. Volume-I contains 7 parvans: Adi (Book 1) to Drona (Book 7), and Volume-II the rest. Kavi Sanjaya has innovations after Shalya Parvan (Book 9): Gada Parvan (10), Daho Parvan (14) and Sthan parvan (16).
Images of terracotta panels depicting Mahabharata episodes as cover design — Arjuna hitting the fish target at Draupadi’s svayamvara on the front cover, sheshashayi Narayana as frontispiece and Arjuna piercing the ground to quench Bhishma’s thirst on the back cover— from terracotta temples of Bankura-Bishnupur (West Bengal) aptly add to the ambience. They also act as Bhattacharya’s hint-commentary on the possible cultural interaction of the literary and terracotta genres, and of Sanjaya’s possible influence on the terracotta sculptor-poets of the 16th-17th centuries. One may even read them symbolically: Arjuna piercing the target as Bhattacharya’s statement of having achieved a gargantuan task, and Arjuna quenching Bhishma’s thirst as his optimism to quench the never waning thirst of Mahabharata lovers for amrita drops from the Mahabharata Ocean.
An appendix of Arjuna’s ten names from Prof. P. Lal’s Virata Parvan transcreation serves the purpose of reference, comparison with Sanjaya’s verses, Bhattacharya’s contextualizing his work and also his tribute to Prof. P. Lal through remembrance.
Bhattacharya has done a very interesting experiment with spellings of nouns and consonant sounds. Bengali, a language with Magadhi Prakrit as her ‘mother’, often has ‘o’ pronunciation of consonants that Sanskrit renders as ‘a’ ; often has a stop at the end-consonant of a word, no difference in pronunciation between ‘v’ and ‘b’, and absence of the sibilant ‘s’ which is pronounced as ‘sh’. Retaining spellings of Sanskrit words as found in the Oxford English Dictionary, Bhattacharya spells proper nouns in tune with Bengali pronunciation. Thus, Mahabharata is Mohabharot, Kavi Sanjaya is Kobi Sonjoy, Vyasa is Byas, Vana Parvan is Bono Porbo, Drona is Dron, Amba is Omba etc. Even his own name on the second title page is Prodeep Bhottacharjyo. This is unique for an English translation. Indeed, he has provided the ‘flavour of the Bengali pronunciation’ as claimed.
Bhattacharya has taken all precautions against any possible confusion from this experimentation. Other than providing footnotes and clarifications for every such usage on every page, he takes care to eliminate any residual confusion with his Bengali ‘flavoured’ spelt nouns by listing them with their corresponding Sanskrit transliteration along with brief explanations in a detailed glossary.
In the Preface, Bhattacharya provides valuable information and analysis on the historicity of Sanjaya and his Mahabharata, as also on interesting aspects of its content like variations from Vyasa’s Mahabharata, complete with a comparative analysis of the variations of Sanjaya’s and Kashiram Das’ Mahabharatas. His observation that ‘some of (Kashiram’s variations) must have been taken from Kobi Sonjoy’ is a clue for future research to situate Sanjaya historically and understand the import of his work.
Locating Sanjaya is important not only to understand his time, but also to understand the significance of modern Mahabharata works and studies including Bhattacharya’s work of reviving him in English. Bhattacharya has rightly pointed out that Mahabharata re-emerged with prominence in cultural discourse through literature in the 15th-16th centuries in a somewhat synchronized fashion in eastern and southern India. Kavi Sanjaya’s venture is paralleled by Kumara Vyasa in Kannada, Sarala Das in Odiya, Rama Sarasvati in Assamese, and Ezhuthachan in Malayalam. Only the last is a complete translation, but all are characterized by free thinking and imagination in incorporating materials from local lore or innovations, and in leaving out most philosophical discourses of Vyasa’s Mahabharata.
Obviously, something happened in the cultural sky of Bengal and India then that Mahabharata needed to be rediscovered. Bhattacharya’s tentative suggestion that it might be the felt need to assert indigenous identity in the context of Muslim invasion holds merit. It definitely ‘calls for further study’ as he suggests, particularly so if we see how the Mahabharata fascination continues in the next centuries and almost dominates the consciousness of all key figures of the Bengal/Indian Renaissance of the 19th century.
Looking back into Indian history, we find how Mahabharata has been remembered during every crucial historical juncture, or ‘golden age’. Starting from Bhasa (4th cent. BCE), through the Satavahana Queen Goutami-Balashri’s Nashik-Prashasti Inscription (149 CE), Vishakhadatta’s Mudrarakshasa ( 4th century CE), Gupta Inscriptions, Ravikirti’s Aihole Inscription of Pulakeshin II (610–642 CE), the Indonesian Bharata–Yuddha (1157 CE) of Mpu Sedah and Mpu Panuluh and Emperor Akbar’s commissioned Persian translation Razmnama (three editions 1584-1617) show the great impact of Mahabharata in India and beyond.
Inheriting this brilliant tradition, Sanjaya’s Mahabharata assumes the miniature replica of the melting pot with mingled ingredients of Ramayana and Mahabharata tradition, and influences of Buddhism, Jainism, Vaishnavism and Shaktaism. For example, Sanjaya makes King Nala the grandson of Rama’s son Kusha, thereby bringing together Ramayana and Mahabharata. Here he is in the direct tradition of Vyasa’s Mahabharata where we have Markandeya’s Ramayana, Hanuman’s interaction with Bhima, and Rama’s bloodline Brhadbala dying by Abhimanyu’s hand.
Just as Sanjaya creates and narrates a new parvan (Gada parvan), one is startled to find that Al-Biruni’s India (973–1050 CE) too mentions Gada parvan as Book 9. Could there be any connection between Al-Biruni and Sanjaya’s source despite their distance in space and time (5 centuries), or is it a glorious coincidence?
Again, Sanjaya’s Ashvamedhaparvan, which largely follows the Jaiminiya Mahabharata, provides an interesting variation in that Bokrodonto instead of Baka Dalbhya steals the horse so that he can meet Krishna. In the ancient Jain Sutrakrtanga (1.6), Dantavakra is the best of Kshatriyas as a parallel to Mahavira the best of sages. Whether Sanjaya’s giving such importance to Bokrodonto (Dantavakra) is owing to Jain influence would be an interesting query for researchers. After all, the Jain community known as Saraks, though isolated and separated from the main body of the Jain community following Bakhtiyar Khalji’s invasion, still maintained a significant presence in Bihar, Bengal, Orissa and Jharkhand.
Sanjaya’s Karna is born from Kunti’s ear, thus getting the name Karna. The same narrative is found in the Bheel Bharata and folk narratives in other parts of India.
Sanjaya’s most dramatic innovation is introducing Draupadi as a warrior. In Drona Parvan, following Abhimanyu’s death, Draupadi leads an all-woman army of Yadava women including Subhadra, Uttara, Krishna’s queens and Revati against the Kaurava army at night and routs them, though finally sparing the key figures for their male counterparts to fulfil their vows. In a series of wish-fulfilling dramas, Draupadi defeats Drona, Ashvatthama and Duryodhana, and whirls about Duhshasana by his hair, avenging her similar humiliation at his hands in the Kuru Sabha. Similarly, Subhadra ties up Jayadratha’s hands and feet and has him kicked unconscious by maids. Jayadratha seems to be at the worst receiving end from Sanjaya. Earlier too, in Vana Parvan, after Bhima had rescued Draupadi from Jayadratha, Draupadi’s maids had kicked him. Uttara beheads Duhshasana’s son Rudradev who killed Abhimanyu. Here, Sanjaya is undoubtedly influenced by the Shakta tradition and represents women as Shakti evoking the imagery of Mahishasuramardini. Or, he might be remembering two marginalized episodes of Vyasa’s Mahabharata in which Draupadi exerts physical prowess and hurls her molesters Jayadratha and Kicaka to the ground. While Vyasa does not name Duhshasana’s son, Sanjaya’s naming him Rudradev gives a face to the faceless killer of Abhimanyu and has an ironic humanitarian dimension.
Sanjaya’s Adi Parvan has Janamejaya charging Vyasa with failure to prevent the fratricidal battle. This dramatic situation of Vyasa-Janamejaya interaction as the narrative frame has a curious parallel in Peter Brook’s Mahabharata (1989) which begins with Janamejaya and Vyasa interacting. Peter Brook introduced folk elements in his Mahabharata. It seems, the ‘folk mind frame’ of creative artists, perhaps, visualizes dramatic situations in similar ways.
Kavi Sanjaya, of Bharadvaja Gotra, was a resident of Laur village in present Bangladesh. While in Vyasa’s Mahabharata, Pandu and Indra’s friend Bhagadatta is ruler of Pragjyotishpur, Sanjaya hails him as him as ruler of Vanga-Desh including Laur. The exalted place accorded to him might point to a Bhagadatta cult in the region covering present day Assam and Bangladesh because, as evident from the Nidhanpur copperplate inscription, the Kamarupa king Bhaskaravarman (7th century CE) eulogized Bhagadatta as Deva and traced his ancestry to Bhagadatta’s successors.
Like the character Ahiravana in Krittibas’ Ramayana, Sanjaya creates a character named Viveka, Sudhanva’s infant son, who vanquishes Krishna, Pandavas and Hanuman. Finally, on his grandfather Hongshodhvoj’s request, Viveka surrenders to Krishna. In Bengali, ‘bibek’ connotes conscience. Besides, in the Yatra (folk-theatre) tradition, there is a character called ‘Bibek’, conscience-personified. Given that the fratricidal Kurukshetra War did not bring peace and joy to Yudhishṭhira’s mind owing to qualms of conscience, whether Sanjaya’s introduction of Viveka is an echo-metaphor for Viveka-conscience, or Bibek of Yatra tradition with the role of conscience might be another interesting point of query.
In the same Ashvamedhaparvan, Sanjaya introduces the story of King Niladhavaja’s wife Jana (Jvala in Jaimini) who, failing to incite his brother against Arjuna for avenging her son Prabir’s death, immolates herself, transforms into an arrow and enters Babhruvahana’s quiver. Later Babhruvahana kills Arjuna with that arrow, and Jana’s revenge is accomplished. Girish Chandra Ghosh, the father of Bengali theatre, wrote a powerful play ‘Jana’ in 1894 with her as the central character.
The cultural interaction of early Bengali literature and Yatra is quite evident in that, the Krishna Jatra genre, evolved through the devotional singing and dancing of the followers of the Krishna Bhakti movement, was inspired by Rasa-lila and dramatic poetry like Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda (12th century), Chandidas’ Srikrishna Kirtan15th century) and later further propelled by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s mystic Krishnaism. There is also Nata Gita, an operatic folk drama form in medieval Bengal, filled with singing, dancing and music sans dialogue, which provided an early model for the Krishna Jatra.
One unique aspect of Sanjaya’s Mahabharata pointed out by Bhattacharya is that his narration is interspersed with Lachadi couplets of twenty syllables accompanied by dance, to be sung in various ragas and raginis such as Basant, Kamod, Bhatiyal, Shri, Barari and Pathamanjari. Obviously, dramatic elements abound in Sanjaya’s Mahabharata. This is further evident from the narrative twists. In Mausala Parvan, Kavi Sanjaya has Arjuna accompany Krishna at the end, and true to Yatra appeal and high drama, Sanjaya’s Krishna breathes his last while resting his head on his best friend Arjuna’s lap.
Bhattacharya’s easy flowing English, constantly reminding us of the richness of Bengal’s culture, makes a pleasant and illuminating read.
At the end, one would certainly agree that Bhattacharya’s translated volumes merit an imperative place in libraries and collections for serious researchers of Indian and Bengal history and for Mahabharata-lovers and lay readers alike.
Department of English
Rinku Kalsy interviewed me and others on the women of the Mahabharata.
Here is the video link –> https://vimeo.com/64069030
My English translation in free verse line-by-line of Bengal’s Adi Kavi, Sanjay’s Bengali version of the Mahabharata has been published by Dasgupta & Co., 54/3, College Street, Kolkata-700073, firstname.lastname@example.org, in 2 volumes, A-4 size. Sanjay created fascinating tales, the most striking of which is his account of Draupadi and the Yadava ladies attacking the Kaurava army after Abhimanyu was slaughtered and utterly routing them, including Drona, Karna, Duhshasana, Duryodhana!
KOLKATA: Most of us think that the Mahabharata translated in ..