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Sarala Mahabharat Tales of Subversion

Sarala Mahabharat Tales of Subversion



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Published by santanu
sarala das : a great poet of odisha
sarala das : a great poet of odisha

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Published by: santanu on Feb 13, 2009
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Orissa Review * November - 2007
Though Vyasa's original Sanskrit Mahabharataremains the raison de'tre of Sarala's Mahabharatain Oriya, it is not at all a translation of the former,nor even written in the shadow of it. As it were,Sarala's epic stands out as an independent,autonomous piece of art on its own merit. Bothstructurally and otherwise Sarala's OriyaMahabharata is a creative work of art with noless brilliance and endurance than the originalSanskrit one.As we observe, Sarala not only makes it apoint to break away from the Sanskrit originalboth in structure and spirit, he unequivocally givesout a voice of protest against the monopoly,orthodoxy and authoritarianism of the Brahminsdown the ages. Mr.Gadadhar Mishra gives acomparative account of the composition of Mahabharata in different regional languages. WhileSarala wrote in late 15th century, Kasiram, RamaSaraswati, Ramanujan and Mukteswar wroteMahabharata in Bengali, Assamese, Malayalamand Marathi respectively during 16th century andGokulnath wrote the epic in Hindi full twocenturies after, during 18th century (110)(1).A closer examination of Sarala's epic wouldexpose marks of subversion which, in all
Sarala Mahabharat : Tales of Subversion
 Dr. Satyabrata Das
probability, Sarala did consciously, deliberately.The theme of subversion in Sarala Mahabharataoccurs at many levels and surfaces in many ways.However, they can be categorised into five broadpatterns : Religious, Socio-Cultural, Ethical-intellectual-philosophical, Structural and linguistic.Since more than three millennia passedbetween Vyasa and Sarala, it is quite obvious thatseveral streams of faith and religious creedappeared and vanished in that aeonian stretch of time. Though the differences and deviations aregalore between the two an attempt may be takento pin down to certain points to exhibit the coreoriginality of an anonymous regional talent likeSarala in his determined effort to subvert theoriginal Sanskrit Mahabharata of the iconic Vyasa.We may approach this theme of subversionfrom the religious corridor. First of all, Saralavisualizes Lord Krisna and Sri Jagannath as oneand inseparable. Though Krisna as a character isinvariably caught in a cross-fire of controversy(for his indulgence in debauchery, diplomacy anddouble-dealings on one hand, while on the other,His absoluteness as the Purna Brahman) Sarala,visualizes Him as the purest and the absoluteBrahman. Hence, Sarala sees no distinction
Orissa Review * November - 2007
between Sri Krisna and Sri Jagannath. They areone and indivisible. Sarala's Krisna, as Boulton,the Western Indologist and a distinguished Saralascholar, looks at him, is drawn more in the lightof Jayadeva's Gita Govinda with theaccompanying sensuality and licentiousness. Thusthe Krisna of Sarala is a world apart from theintellectual-philosopher-omniscient Krisna of Vyasa (23).Next, coming to the episode of ViswarupaDarshan, the great cosmic form that Sri Krisnashows to Duryodhan (when the latter repeatedlyoffends him and attempts to arrest him in theSanskrit Original Version) is changed in Sarala's.In Sarala Mahabharata Sri Krisna, whenintimidated by Duryodhan, takes various formslike fish, tortoise, boar and finally Narasimha (half-lion, half-man). Analysts are of the opinion thatSarala, by showing this, proves the supremeforgiveness and compassion of the Lord who, inspite of being slighted and provoked, still had hisblessings for the sinner and the arch-enemyDuryodhan.Again, in the same sequence, theNabagunjara form (the head of a hen, the hunchof a bull, the neck of a pea-cock, the tail of asnake, the waist of a lion; and each foot is likethat of a horse, tiger, elephant and man) that SriKrisna takes on is a unique and original displayof Sarala's genius and creativity.The next landmark along the religiouscorridor is the character of Draupadi. While Vyasaaddresses only to the physical and external beauty/ glamour of Draupadi ; Sarala takes a holistic viewof this magnificent specimen of human character.Sarala, being truly the voice of the people of histime, culture and society, has made all possibleefforts to shape and mould Draupadi's characterin the best of the ethical, religious andpsychological perspective. That explains theoriginality in Sarala's incorporation of the SATIAMBA episode in his script (Mansingh,Mayadhar. Matira Mahakabi Sarala Das,46)Yet another critic Dr. K.C. Panigrahi, inhighlighting the religious distinctions of SaralaMahabharata, observes :In his Mahabharata Sarala Dasa deviatesfrom the Sanskrit original and represents Draupadias the unseen destructive force working for thedeath and destruction of all the Kauravas, all thePandavas excluding Yudhisthira and the Yadavasincluding Sri Krisna.(Sarala Dasa, Sahitya Akademi, 1975, 37)This theory of Sarala Dasa which finds adistinct motion in the Karna Parva of theMahabharata is altogether novel- thus commentsDr. Panigrahi insightfully (37).Further, contrasting the original SanskritMahabharata with Sarala's Prof. Chittaranjan Dasobserves that none of the Gods and Goddessesin Sarala Mahabharata has his /her spiritual cloutas in Vyasa's. Though Sarala has shown nodisrespect to them, he makes them descend onthe local, Oriya platform and perform their role.(A Glimpse into Oriya Literature,101-2). As amatter-of-fact Sarala made the sanctified Godsappear life-like as men in flesh and blood thatbecame a rich cultural heritage of Orissa. Thuswe find Lord Jagannath being depicted with suchinformality and intimacy by scores of poets andwriters over centuries. Boulton too asserts ;….. and here we come to the crux of the matter.Sarala Dasa behaves towards Krisna in the
Orissa Review * November - 2007
traditional manner of Oriyas towards Jagannath;he mocks and debunks him. In doing so, he breaksaway from the path of both Vyasa and Jayadeva.Vyasa had exalted Krishna as the divine lover,but Sarala Dasa refuses to regard Krisna/ Jagannath as anything but equal, whose faults areto be mocked and censured (23).This is amazing! Nothing could be moresubversive than this!As regards the socio-cultural perspectivein Sarala we observe innumerable digressionsfrom the original. As a case in point, Saralaintroduces a comic relief in which the old kingYudhisthira gets into a marital bond with the youngdaughter of a goldsmith Hari Sahu fromAmaravati. Though he comes under heavy firefor incorporating such a ludicrous episode in thehigh serious epic Sarala, as Dr. Mansingh rightlyupholds, was just and fair. Such interludesunequivocally send their powerful signals againstthe rigid and rampant caste-system prevalent inour society. The marriage between the highestwarrior class with a Vaisya commoner was justunthinkable at that point of time. Boulton too, inpowerful terms, highlights how Sarala underminesthe "Caste System" and attacks the Hindu-AryanGods(23). Boulton points out how Saralaconsistently undermines "the exalted status oaristocrats and saints" (22).On the ethical -intellectual - philosophicalfront Sarala makes no pretension of putting upany rivalry with Vyasa's original. The entire stretchof the profound Bhagavad Gita (with Lord Krisnaas the Philosopher King, the guide and preceptorof not Arjun alone but of the entire mankind) isso strikingly absent in Sarala Mahabharata. AsProf. B. Mohanty says The Santi Parva, thequintessence of Sanskrit Mahabharata, doesn'tfigure in Sarala Mahabharata. Dr. MayadharMansingh insightfully observes on the verydifference in the focus between the originalSanskrit and the Oriya Mahabharata of Sarala.In his analysis he takes the Santi parva as a casein point. While in the Sanskrit original, as Dr.Mansingh highlights, the entire canto reboundswith sermons, dos and donts, intellectual andphilosophical fire-works; in the SaralaMahabharata they appear rather irrelevant, outof context. Sarala has brought the sermonizingsto the minimum. It was, as Dr. Mansingh believes,because Sarala wrote the Mahabharata for theilliterate peasantry, not for the elites of society asVyasa did.Yet another critic, Madan Mohan, in hiscomparative evaluation of Vyasa and Sarala (ontheir respective Mahabharata in Sanskrit andOriya) highlights the Lakha Vindha episode andthe following sequence, the marriage of Draupadiwith the five Pandava brothers. In Vyasa's original,as Madan Mohan points out, the marriage of Draupadi with the five Pandavas is solemnized ina five day session with Vyasa himself presidingover the rituals. Whereas Sarala prefers not todo that. Sarala, if studied in-depth, consciouslyavoids the abruptness and the lack of respect forhuman dignity underlying Vyasa's schemata.Sarala, instead, speaks in the voice of Vyasahimself to Draupadi (who resents the veryproposal to marry five brothers). Vyasa, in hiscounseling, reveals to Draupadi in a monologuethe account how Indra takes birth as mortal inthe "Panchu Pandavas" and Draupadi herself isnone but Indra's eternal companion Sachi. Thetwo are one and inseparable. Though thePandavas are five externally, they are spiritually

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