The Bardhaman Mahabharata


The Pandavas in Exile

Feb 04, 2013 — CANADA (SUN) —

Having discussed the epic edition known as the 'Bombay Mahabharata', we close this exploration of Mahabharata with another famous version: the Bangla Bardhaman Mahabharata. Shown here are a number of wood engravings from this edition, depicting some of the same scenes we saw in the Bombay Mahabharata illustrations.

While there have been countless different renditions done of Mahabharata -- probably at least one famous one in every state in India -- a few are known as the topmost in each region. In Bengal, one of these is the Bangla Mahabharata authored by Kashiram Das.

Kashiram Das lived in 16th Century Bengal, and is known as one of the important poets in medieval Bengali literature. His Bangla rendition of the Mahabharata, known as the 'Kashidasi Mahabharata', helped to popularize Sri Mahabharata in Bengal during this age.

More recently, during the 19th Century, the princely state of Bardhaman (Burdwan) in Bengal was a center known for patronizing literature and the arts. Many ancient Sanskrit scriptures and Hindu epics were translated into Bangla and published regularly. In the case of the Bardhaman Mahabharata, the edition was created under patronage of Maharaja Mahatab Chand Bahadur (1820-1879), a ruler of Bardhaman who was well know for encouraging the arts. The last image below is an engraving of Chand Bahadur that appeared on the cover of that edition.

Although the entire Kashidasi Mahabharata is intra-textually ascribed to him, most scholars agree that the author composed only the first four of the eighteen books, or parvas. While some say it is quite clear that the first four books, Adi, Sabha, Vana and Virata parvas, were composed by him around the turn of the 16th Century, other say the work on the latter parvas may have been done by relatives after he departed, although written in his style. The vanity refrain at the end of the Virata parva gives the date of its composition as the Shaka year 1526 (1606 A.D.) As often happened when these great epics were re-told, Kashiram freely removed certain elements and added others to the story.

The Battle of Kurukshetra

Kashiram Das was born to a Vaishnava kayastha family in the village of Singi, adjacent to Katwa in Bardhaman district. He was the second son of Kamalakanta Das, and had two brothers who were also noted poets in the Vaishnava padavali tradition. His elder brother, Ghanashyam Das, is the author of Sri Krishna-vilas and his younger brother Gadadhar composed Jagannatha-mangal. Although the subject matter of Kashiram's Bangla Mahabharata was outside the mainstream Krishna-lila pastimes, his work is stylistically in the same tradition, using the payar chhanda (payar metre).

Kashiram Das was reportedly inspired to compose a Bengali version of Mahabharata after a recitation of the Sanskrit text at the home of his patron, a local zamindar. He may have been guided in this enterprise by his teacher, Abhiram Mukhuti of Haraharpur.

Kashiram Das had named his text Bharata-panchali, 'Bharata' referring to the Bharata dynasty, and panchali being the narrative song tradition of Bengal. The panchali works attempt to tell a story that will keep the general audience's interest. In this spirit, Kashiram avoided the long philosophical discourses that are the heart and soul of Mahabharata, including the entire discourse of Krishna to Arjuna (Sri Bhagavad-gita). But in true storyteller fashion, he elaborates on the story of Mohini, the female Vishnu-avatar who enchants Shiva.

Although other Bangla Mahabharatas had been composed earlier, such as the Kavindra Mahabharata composed in 1525 A.D., the Kashidasi Mahabharata soon became the staple of Bengali Mahabharata readings. Composed in the mangalkavya tradition, the vanity refrain has become a staple of Bengali tradition:

    mahabharater katha amrita saman
    kashiram das bhane shune punyaban

    'The Mahabharata tales are like ambrosia, says Kashiram das;
    it brings merit to listen to it.'

Departure of Krishna

When the Serampore Mission Press was begun in the 19th Century, a serial presentation of the Kashidasi Mahabharata were among the first Bangla texts to be printed. Eventually the complete text, edited by Jayagopal Tarkalankar, was published in 1936 by Serampore.

Maharaja Mahatab Chand Bahadur

Sources: Mukul Dey Archive, Wiki


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