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Wronged women of the classics.  by Prema Nandakumar.
A passionately charming introduction to the critical problems faced by women PANCH-KANYAA— The Five Virgins of Indian Epics: Pradip Bhattacharya; Writers Workshop, 162/92, Lake Gardens.
Categorizing womanhood based on racial experience has been a way of life in India. The entire Devi Bhaagavat and allied Taantric texts speak in numbers. For instance, the Supreme Mother is said to wear nine forms as nine armors: Shailputree, Brahmachaarinee, Chandraghantaa, Kushmandaa, Skandamaataa, Kaatyaayanee, Kaalraatri, Mahaagauree and Siddhidaatree. In Indian religion and literature we have concepts like the Sapt-matrukaa (Seven mothers) or Five virgins (Pancha Kanyaa). Of course, each century and each society keeps reformatting the names, retaining the number. So who are the five virgins? Pradip Bhattacharya's epigraph speaks of Ahalyaa, Draupadee, Kuntee, Taaraa and Mandodaree. "Invoking daily the virgins five destroys the greatest failings." None of them fit in with the traditional concept of a virgin since each one had been violated and had lived with more than one person. Yet, invoking their name cleanses one of the greatest sins (Mahaa Paatak Naashak). Having been brought up in the court of the Mahaabhaarat scholar, Purushottama Lal, Pradip wondered about this basic paradox and went on a detective adventure very much like our benevolent Father Brown. The result is a passionately charming introduction to the critical problems faced by women from the time immemorial.

Passionate because the author is obviously on the side of the women who have been wronged. It is true that Ahalyaa was a willing victim of Indra's deception but how about the men folk who shuffle around with their double talk? Vishwaamitra praised Ahalya but condemned Rambhaa. Also, Pradip finds it ironic "that where Raam's visit redeems Ahalyaa, it is because of his suspicions that Seetaa decides to enter fire and later suffers exile and chooses oblivion."

The very fact that one is born as a woman makes one vulnerable. As a Tamil saying goes: "whether a plantain leaf falls on a thorn, or a thorn falls on the plantain leaf, it is the leaf that suffers damage." One keeps a gasping pace with Pradip who recounts many little known legends and strings them together to give insights into the personality of each of the heroines. Mandodaree is a major name in the Raamaayan. But how many of us know that Raavan abducted her putting on Vaali's guise? That she had already been living with Vali? Apparently Raavan had tasted success as an abductor quite early in his life! Pradip gets all this from the Dharma Puraan in Oriya. Is there a lesson in these lives marked by the struggle and sorrow in human time? They all have suffered intensely and yet have never thought of destroying themselves. Hence, invoking their names certainly destroys fear for they have taken tough and intelligent decisions in their time. Go ahead with your life boldly, for the past can light our way to taking decisions for the future. Be a Draupadee.

Mother India Pancha-Kanya: The Five Virgins of Indian Epics by Pradip Bhattacharya
(Writers Workshop, Calcutta). 2005. Pages: 131. Hardback: Rs. 200)
The take-off for the book's argument begins with the Publisher's note itself. Our veteran transcreator Purushottama Lal lists sixteen kinds of virgins found in India's ancient texts. Kanya is a girl of eight; Kanya is also the sign of Virgo. Why is the term "kanya" used in the "five virgins tradition", and not "stree" since all the five women cited in the tradition have borne children? Prof. Lal stops here. Our Professor knows when to be voluble and when to remain silent. This is "a quest in search of meaning" by his brilliant student. Let the student speak!

Pradip Bhattacharya is one of those intrepid scholars who also happen to be bureaucrats. I have known some of them like Iravatham Mahadevan who have nurtured consciously the talent lodged within them, and saved it from being smothered by files. The results have been flattering to our culture. If Mahadevan has made brilliant strides in deciphering the Brahmi script, Pradip has been exploring the Mahabharata tradition with enviable tenacity. Naturally such investigations spill over to the entire cultural history of India. The findings are never final as almost all of them are wet with womanhood's ancient tears. Even today, sorrowing lies the space for women in this land of Dharma, Dharma-sankat and Adharma. All the same, in the hour when the gods awake led by Usha, the pious Indian intones the verse glorifying Indian womanhood:

Ahalya Draupadi Kunti Tara Mandodari tatha | Panch kanya smarennityam mahapataka nasanam

At the outset it must be conceded that Pancha Kanya: The Five Virgins of Indian Epics is a mine of information. It must needs be so, for each woman in our epics (it could be even the self-effacing foster mother of Kama) has all the yesterdays encapsulated in her personality, while her unwound tresses still remain unavenged. Yes, Bhima destroyed Duhshasana, spattered Panchali's tresses with his blood and gathered it in a plait. That was in Dwapara. But Draupadi remains alive, still unavenged, as Mahashweta Devi's Dopdi and millions like her. So 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. In effect, we become enthusiastic companions in this search in heroic India.

The germane question: Are these heroines relevant in this technological age? Again, where the man-woman relationship has lost its romantic connotation and mystery, where the female body has lost its pulsating mystery, who cares for the adulterous lady, for the princess who openly resided with several men, the helpless rakshasi, the monkey-queen who allowed herself to be buffeted to and fro by the monkey-brothers? The answer is recorded swiftly by Pradip. The Indian, whether in his motherland or in Norwalk or in Saigon is proud of his roots. Chandrakant Shinde's e-mail from Los Angeles quoted in the book tells all.

Chandrakant and others may discuss the heroines but will not cease to worship them. Of course, there are "courageous" voices (with half-baked knowledge of the myths) who try to make a stand as Varsha Pathak in her posting to Shaaditimes (, criticizing the blessing of "sada suhagin ho":

"It hardly matters if the man she is married to turns out to be a monster, a la Frankenstein.... Time to brush up our knowledge of popular Indian mythology and review the case histories of some of the more famous heroines of yesteryear. There is a very famous Sanskrit shloka, the chanting of which supposedly frees you from all your sins. You guessed it, this verse is dedicated to five and great satis, immortalized by myth and legend. They are Ahalya, Sita, Draupadi, Tara, and Mandodari. All five are considered not just saubhagyavatis but are doubly exalted for having committed he ultimate act of sati. Okay, by now you know from where phrases like sati-savitri have entered the popular Hindu lexicon."

This confusion of categories in Sanskrit terminology which has led scribes like Varsha Pathak to speak of the Pancha Kanyas as the Five Satis has to be cleared, for (apparently there is something contemporaneous about the life histories of the five (virgins (as it is with the iconized sapta matrikas-the Seven Mothers) which evokes (such strong feelings even today. The Pancha Kanya today? Swiftly Pradip takes us to the Singha Devi Sthal in Nepal set up in honor of five virgin deities, Dhrupadi, jTara, Kunti, Parwati and Manju (as in the sapta matrika concept, there are changes in names in Pancha Kany a concept as well) where there is a cave which could be the originating backdrop of Draupadi herself. A living inspiration even today.

To Ahalya then. In Valmiki she is an adulteress. After that one indiscretion, she has not been allowed a moment of peace by self-righteous moralists and theme-hungry artistes in all these centuries. Pradip's approach is a feminist's delight and could also be interpreted as an insinuation characteristic of patriarchy:

"Creation's sole beautiful woman, she is the archetypal feminine responding to the ardent, urgent, direct sexual advances of the ruler of heaven who presents such a dazzling contrast to her ascetic, aged, forest-dwelling husband. Mortal woman welcomes the ultimate touch of heaven's immortal, driven by that irrepressible curiosity for varied and unusual experience and a willingness to take risks for it which marks the feminine. It is a fine instance of the interlinking of the Anima and the Animus that Jung recognized to be unconscious elements of the psyche which the individual needs to develop, or make conscious, to maintain a healthy, balanced outlook in personal relationships and on the world at large."

Pradip's explanation sounds close to Virginia Woolf's crisp phrase, "man-womanly". But still one wonders whether all this gives an adequate explanation of a deliberate trespass. Pradip wanders to several spaces-Uttara Kanda, Mahabharata, Shiva Purana,-and we realize that the creative artiste is always drawn to exceptions. Ahalya was an exception to the rule. So the reteller of the original legend often sets up a legal defense. What right did Gautama have to curse her?

However, we must needs standby the first Ahalya we see. We find her in Valmiki as indulging in the extra-marital connection even after recognising Indra. The latter-day Ahalyas are creatures of imagination. This Ahalya is asli, honest, and is remembered by us at dawn as witness to Sanatana Dharma which does not condemn anyone to eternal hell. Even when one has consciously committed a sin, one can gain redemption by tapasya, by melting in the heat of meditation and regret holding on to a firm decision never to commit the sin again. Valmiki speaks of her as "yashasvini, tapo dirghamupagata". Gautama also is witness to Sanatana Dharma which is based on compassion and an understanding of ground realities, so eloquently noted by Valmiki's Sita:

Paapanam va shubhanam va vadharhanam plavangam
Kaaryam karunaamaryen na kashchid naparadhyati

Tara is a very significant term in Tantra Yoga. The second of the Das Mahaa-vidyaa, she is Pashyanti (Vak) and signifies the Pranav. According to Vasishta Gana-pati Muni, she moves in the skies though she is no space power. She is the best among the powers that purify creation: advanebhyascha pavani bhavatyesha. Has such a power been envisaged by Valmiki? Obviously yes because of the association with "movement in the skies". Possessed of mature intelligence, she is praised by Vali as one whose opinions never go wrong: nahi taramatam kincidanyatha parivartate. Once again, let us not stray into the latter Taras or other Taras (like Brihaspati's wife). We invoke Valmiki's Tara as one who is intelligent and follows her tribe's customs. Neither she nor we find it strange that she is dishabille when she comes from Sugriva's bed to meet Lakshmana. Nor will we ever know whether it was an intelligent ploy on her part so that she could get back to the inner apartments and announce, "mission accomplished"! The Tara who meets Lakshmana in Kamban's Tamil version is in widow's garments which seems to prove that the treatment of widows in northern India started in Tamil Nadu that has given a raw deal to these unfortunate women since the Sangam times.

Mandodari is very much part of contemporary consciousness. There is the popular Manduka sabdam of Andhra Kuchipudi repertoire where the croakings of a frog are effectively synthesised in music along with the victory-gait of Ravana. A week or two after Holi, Meerut holds the Navchandi Festival to celebrate the building of the original Chandi temple by Mandodari who was born in a "devil's house" in the city. But as with Ahaly a and Tara, Valmiki shall be our Truth-visioning seer. If so, we would have Mandodari as a wife of great courage in spite of being married to one of the most powerful and arrogant rakshasas of all times. Why bother about the latter-day retellings of a Vali connection? Valmiki's Mandodari-vilapa points out clearly that in a land which has men flaunting several wives at a time (with high-profile politicians leading the band), it is woman who has chosen to remain loyal to the family idea, a proud living legacy for humankind.

In his exploratory search remote-controlled by Jungian psychology, Pradip feels that Durvasa might have committed sexual abuse of Kunti when she served him. I have read a variety of criticism against Durvasa (being a patient listener of traditional Kathas that go on till late at night), but this is the first time I find the spluttery sage associated with such an outrage. There is a good deal of taxi-ing around before we come to Kunti and then another Pradip-twist: Kunti forced Draupadi to share her bed with the five brothers to avenge her own life that was used by four different people (perhaps five, if Durvasa is included)! There is then the Vidura angle (Iravati Karve) related by Pradip with apposite diction (one could write a thesis on Pradip's diction in this monograph): "How pregnantly succinct is Vyasa's account of Kunti's encounter with Dharma!" Did Kunti and Vidura hoodwink everyone in the Mahabharata and 'all of us who have come later?

Draupadi. Pradip's account is sublime because the subject is sublime. One may not trifle with her. In this wonderful chapter bringing together Vyasa with a good deal of latter-day recreations of Draupadi's personality, Pradip teaches us how to distinguish between a "kanya" and a "sati" by juxtaposing Taramati's docility when Harishchandra sells her and Draupadi's fierce independence. The Sati finds fulfillment in and through her husband, the Kanya "seeks to fulfill herself regardless of social and family norms." Was this why Sri Aurobindo chose Savitri as his epic heroine? Did he think that by taking this independent stance, a Kanya is able to strengthen herself and become an achiever? Did Goddess Savitri's boon to King Aswapati in the Mahabharata provide him with the clue to Savitri's character: kanya tejasvini saumya ksiprameva bhavisyati? "Kanya tejasvini" no doubt inspired Sri Aurobindo to write of Savitri:

An ocean of untrembling virgin fire; The strength, the silence of the gods were hers.

Though Pancha-Kanya seems to be a slim monograph (and some of its space taken over by appropriate sketches and portraits, including some by Ravi Vartna), it expands to Trivikraman proportions as we ruminate on the past sorrows, trials, triumphs of these five heroines. This is the precise reason why we have been asked to recite the sloka every morning. Remember! Remember! Avoid the line of least resistance, struggle forward, make life a tapasya. As Pradip says in conclusion: "The past does indeed hold the future in its womb."-- PREMA NANDAKUMAR

THE STATESMAN, 8TH DAY 21 FEB 2006,Spotlight: The Charmed Ones
In this haunting book, Bhattacharya tries to unravel the mystery of the kanyas, their origins and myths... He tells us of not one but of the many facts and legends surrounding these kanyas illustrated by numerous quotes from different sources — A review by Amreeta Sen Once, when I was on a visit to Badrinath and had stopped over at that calm place of pilgrimage, Haridwar , I heard women chanting in that early morning light which breaks so serenely over the northern plains: Ahalya Draupadi Kunti Tara Mandodari tatha Panchakanya smarennityam mahapataka nashaka.

Years later, this book fell into my hands to perhaps more completely explain the meaning of that incantation that binds the mountain lands of North India to the fertile plains of the East. As the author, Pradip Bhattacharya, goes on to say the kanyas meaning “maidens” were not such in the literal meaning of the word. Were they then satis, women sacrificing their all, their very sense of self , for their husbands and clan?

Not really, says Bhattacharya, for the Panch Satis are different women, Sati, Sita, Savitri, Damayanti and Arundhati. What then distinguishes the kanyas? We are familiar with all of their names because they are from our great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Ahalya, Tara, Mandadori are from the Ramayana and Kunti and Draupadi from the Mahabharata. Are they called kanyas because they knew men other than their husbands? Or unlike the Satis, their lives were not bound up in one man? But all of these women, whether they were with men other than their husbands, have been known to us as having loved only one man, though being forced by chance or circumstances to consort with other men other than their beloveds. In this haunting book, Bhattacharya tries to unravel the mystery of the kanyas, their origins and myths. Consider the first kanya, Ahalya. This flawless beauty was given in marriage to Sage Gautama , as her creator, Brahma, was pleased with the ascetic. Indra, king of the gods, fell in love with the rishi’s wife and seduced her, assuming the form of her husband. This so enraged Gautama that he cursed his wife to be turned into stone, only to be redeemed by Rama, when he came to the forest. That happened many years later, and Ahalya regained her human form, delivered by the same man who would ironically cause his wife to pass through fire and ultimately cast her into exile, because her ‘chastity’ was in doubt. Sita chose oblivion as her form of protest, Ahalya went back to her husband, serene and unruffled, or so it seems.

But as the author points out what was this ‘freezing’ into stone? Was it the form of a stone statue, as legend depicts? Or was it a throttling of the vital spirit that enlivens the human being, a psychological trauma, that made Ahalya into a non-person, for so many years, till a man younger than her son, “kicked” her alive?

Where was that all -forgiving spirit of the sage, the ascetic Gautama, in Ahalya’s story? Did not Ahalya’s husband show a pettiness of revenge, by turning a woman, his wife, into stone? Why did he not cast her off, if he was so appalled by her act? Why did he persist in being tied to the wife that he effected to despise?

In Ahalya’s serenity we have the remarkable spirit of the kanya, that is the essence of these women. Thrown out, mocked, reviled, she returns, time and again, head held high, to take her rightful place in society. Consider Tara and Mandadori. The wives of Bali the strong, and mighty Ravana, had to lose their husbands by unfair means, and most tragic of all, marry the younger brothers, Sugriva and Vibhishana, who were directly or indirectly their husbands’ murderers. But they did all that. They reigned by their second husbands’ side calmly, with the dignity of queens of the realm. Tara did so to secure the throne for Angad, her son. Mandadori, with her husband and son killed, did this to unite her fragmented kingdom, torn apart by strife and war.

Pradip Bhattacharya tells us of not one but of the many facts and legends surrounding these kanyas illustrated by numerous quotes from different sources.

The Mahabharata kanyas, Kunti and Draupadi, had lives, which ran parallel to one another. Both did not know the love of a mother, Kunti , because her father Shura of the Vrishis, gave her to his childless friend Kuntibhoja; and Draupadi because she sprang full- grown from fire, as Drupada’s daughter, not having known anything maternal at all. Interestingly the other three kanyas, Ahalya created by Brahma, Tara, daughter of the Vanara physician, Sushena, and Mandadori, whose birth is ascribed to various legends, have no maternal influence on their lives.

Kunti and Draupadi both, says Bhattacharya, loved one man, but were forced to have relations with others. Kunti loved Pandu, but she was compelled to see him wed to Madri and finally forced by him to use her boon to summon gods so that the impotent Pandu could have the sons he desired. The boon, granted to her by Durvasa, a double-edged sword, by which she could summon any one god to grant her a son, became both a curse and blessing in her life. After the death of her husband, she shepherded her five sons’ destiny, swallowing the taunts levelled at her, living with her children as poor relations in the palace where she once reigned as Queen, never losing sight of her goal, the throne of Hastinapura. She, as Bhattacharya says, is the prototype of that modern icon, the Single Mother.

And Draupadi? Won by Arjuna, but compelled to become wife to all five brothers, her happiness was sacrificed ruthlessly by her mother-in-law, so that the Panchala princess would become the unifying thread to hold the five brothers together and help them in their endeavour to get back their rightful inheritance from the sons of Dhritarashtra.

The scene in court, which saw Draupadi’s humiliation, also heard the death-knell of the Kauravas. In their exile Draupadi never ceased to tom-tom her husbands into battle mode, her unbound hair and her words, forever reminders to her husbands of the humiliations she (and they) had suffered.

And ultimately she waded through the blood of Kurukshetra, through the bodies of kith and kin, to become Empress of Hastinapura. Her victory as much as Kunti’s!

The Pancha Kanyas. Ulimately they are women who triumph over every adversity and emerge victorious. The charmed ones, broken, reviled, raped, demeaned… they struggle on and win through. They love deeply, but are never the beloved. Consider. Tara’s Bali lusted after his own brother’s wife and Ravana abducted Sita even when the beauteous and loving Mandadori was his wife. Pandu used Kunti as a vehicle for getting him his sons, but his real love was the soft-limbed Madri, who followed him into the pyre. Draupadi loved Arjuna, but his soft spot was for the Yadava princess, Krishna’s sister, Subhadra, who was his second wife.

And as mothers? Except for Tara and Kunti, the kanyas lost their sons. Mandadori’s Indrajit, fell in a battle that was not of his own making and Draupadi’s five sons were swallowed up in the massive destruction of Kurukshetra. And Kunti? Did she not lose Karna, her illegitimate first-born, forever?

They are the shaktis of their husbands and clans. But in their victory there is always the shadow of a loss, in their defeat, we can hear the footsteps of victory. These kanyas portray women as the giver of strength and fortitude that gives birth to ultimate victory — in the face of all odds, down the centuries. Just stop a while and think. News headlines scream unrelentingly about the terror unleashed on the world today. Take a look at the strength trying to subdue it — yes, the often silent force in every family across the globe — the women…

Date:03/07/2005 URL: 
Literary Review: TRANSLATION
Tales with a twist : LEKSHMY RAJEEV
Cynicism is best countered by humor. Puranic Tales for Cynical People, Parashuram, translated from the Bengali by Pradip Bhattacharya and Shekhar Sen, Indialog Publications Pvt. Ltd., 2005, p.237, Rs.250.
PURANIC tales, as a rule, are told for the edification of the worldly. But how do we tackle the cynics? Cynicism is best countered by wit and humour, satire and sarcasm. And that's exactly what Rajasekhar Bose "Parashuram" did from the 1930s to the 1950s, writing in Bengali.

Incisive criticism
There are 20 tales culled out from the puranas, itihasas like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and kavyas like the Meghdoot of Kalidasa. But the tale as told by Parashuram commences virtually where the original episode ends, or as it is halfway through; then he creates imaginary situations, taking off from the context of the tale, to include incisive criticism of evils found in contemporary society in politics, culture and religion — almost reminiscent of the great 18th Century Malayalam poet Kunjan Nambiar — and completes the tale in an inimitable manner, even with a twist at the end! Parashuram does this in a style that is curiously light and sharp at the sametime.

The first story, "Jabali", is important in the sense that the character of the sage Jabali is somewhat akin to that of Rajasekhar Bose himself — that the inveterate social critic and seeming cynic, who delivers words of practical wisdom to Ram, echoes the author's views. He tries to convince Ram very logically about the futility of adhering to the letter of religion. But when Ram refuses to budge and does not value Jabali's advice, he turns around and says that he had said all that not because he didn't have faith in religion and spirituality, but to use everything in his power to dissuade Ram from undertaking the self-destructive forest sojourn.

"Surpanakha's Reminiscences" begins with a tête-à-tête in the immediate circle of the author and his acquaintances and slips into a discussion about the memoirs of Surpanakha he is engaged in writing. It presents the importunate sister of Ravan who is after Ram, not as mutilated by Lakshman but as a moody epileptic.

Translating humor
Mahaveer Hanuman's imaginary wife-hunt and the doubts associated with marriage in "Hanuman's Dream" make for uproarious laughter: At one point Hanuman asks Sugreev "How do you keep this gaggle of women under control? Don't they quarrel? Don't they torture you with words like arrows?" This eternal celibate turns into a tool of impeccable humor in the hands of Parashuraam.

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!

Book: "Puranic Tales For Cynical people";
Author: Parashuram; Publisher: Indialog; 236 p.
By Shinie Antony, Indo-Asian News Service Price: Rs.250

Author Rajshekar "Parashuram" Bose - the choice of pseudonym itself is a quip - places legendary characters in post-modern situations in his book "Puranic Tales For Cynical People". Translated from the original Bangla by Pradip Bhattacharya and Shekhar Sen, "Puranic Tales" is for those who take their mythology with a mighty pinch of salt.

The 20 tales wash up forgotten protagonists of the Puranas on modern fictional shores, with epic endings that lend an élan long denied to them.

Ever wondered what was the true story behind Yayati and Puru's adventure? Would it have been possible to have yet another dice game before the battle of Kurukshetra?

Did bachelor Hanuman ever regret his single status? What happened to Surpanakha after the famous snub? How could Revati, who belonged to Satya Yug, marry Balaram two yugs later?

The author takes up these celestial mysteries with tongue firmly in cheek as he collates the colloquial with the classics and comes up with a characteristic congruity.

Surpanakha's wooden nose and ears fall off as she recalls her doomed romance; Hanuman's wife-hunt ends in despair; Durvasa finds his rattle tangled up in his beard years later and Hanuman appears at a séance to kick some ass.

Even the most diehard anti-conservationist cannot fault the comic possibilities that cut through the centuries or deny the continuance of human traits over time.

"The Rule Of Ram" and "Surpanakha's Reminiscences" are two of the best tales in terms of contemporary connectivity. "Revati Gets A Husband" too is a masterpiece of folklore fusing with the fashionable.

"Aunty, didn't your mouth water when you saw that young sage?" asks Surpanakha's niece, like any other trendy teenager, in the book. "Don't be daft," answers Parashuram's Surpanakha, still smarting from the 21st century pass she had dared to make at a disinterested man. "You don't eat the man you love."

Even courtship rituals, it takes a Parashuram to tell us, haven't changed down the years!--Indo-Asian News Service Deccan Herald Sunday, September 18, 2005
Twist in the puranic tale Veena Pradeep

The author has used his considerable knowledge of ancient scripture to produce a modern, tongue-in-cheek set of stories that proves to be very entertaining. Puranic Tales for Cynical People; Parashuram (translated by Pradip Bhattacharya and Shekar Sen), pp 240, Rs 250

What happened to Shurpanakha after Rama spurned her offer of marriage and her ears and nose were cut off? She got a pair of wooden appendages made to replace the original, of course! Rajashekar Bose who wrote under the name Parashuram, has a vivid imagination indeed. This collection of twenty puranic tales with his version of events is testimony to that.

Bharat who stumbles into the 20th century in search of a rattle lost, Hanuman who goes seeking a bride and later thinks otherwise, Menaka who flings a clay girdle onto Viswamitra's torso as a curse for deserting her... characters from mythology do things you don't expect them to in Parashuram's works even as they come across as more human than their original versions. He used these venerable people to poke gentle fun at society- the one he lived in as well as the ancient one. Every story of his appeals both at the level of satirical comment and as a humorous take on mythology, while they also point to his immense knowledge of ancient scriptures and literature. For, only someone who knows a great deal can make fun and get away with it.

Perhaps that is why, as he takes a tongue-in-cheek look at Krishna, Revati, the Pandavas, Brahma, Hanuman, Yayati, et al the reader is left grinning. No righteous indignation whatsoever is felt at gods and celestial beings being reduced to buffoons. He does not even spare God or Allah as they convene on Mount Sumeru along with Brahma- four faces and four hands intact- to reflect on the deteriorating condition of the world and end up quarrelling themselves.

Parashuram's stories also serve as delightful fodder to satiate the readers' curiosity. Anyone who reads the puranic tales will be left with a number of questions unanswered. Enter Parashuram with a side story. This is clearly evident in Revati gets a Husband, where Revati, who has been refusing to marry any of the numerous suitors her father has lined up for her, is taken to Brahma's abode for a lecture. But by time they get back to earth, they find themselves in a different age altogether because one day and night of Brahma is equal to eight hundred and sixty four crore years of men! The scene therefore is nicely set for her marriage to Balaram who belongs to another yuga.

Then we have the Pandavas and Kauravas engaged in a third dice game in The Third Dice Game, where the Pandavas win only to admit defeat because of Yudishtir's stubborn stand on rules. Common sense was not the order of the day, in ancient times, just as it is not now, Parashuram seems to say. Striptease is a hilarious story of Urvashi doing a modern strip jig for three sages and is a revealing commentary on the shallowness of beauty and the apparent power it wields. The Agastya Pass where two kings meet face to face on a narrow pass and both refuse to give way to the other is another brilliant commentary on the outcome of arrogance and egoism.

Non-Bengalis should thank Pradip Bhattacharya and Shekhar Sen for making Parashuram's works
available to the English speaking tribe with their translation.

Draupadi of Mahabharata cries out in Pratibha Ray's Yajnaseni
Posted by Sooraj in India, Books, Hinduism, Women, History on Wednesday, October 19th, 2005

I have just finished reading Pradip Bhattacharya's English translation of the Oriya book "Yajnaseni" by the famed writer Pratibha Ray. If women can be educated and modern without losing their cultural identity, then Pratibha Ray sets an excellent example. Yajnaseni won her a Bharatiya Jnanpith award in 1993.

The story of Draupadi, the heroine of the Mahabharata, is set out in Yajnaseni in Draupadi's own voice. Panchali's heart-rending cries of help and anger due to the abuses heaped on her (not only during the episode of her stripping in the Royal court by the Kauravas) can almost be heard through the pages. The wife of the five Pandava brothers, she is torn between her love for Arjuna and her devotion to Krishna. Krishnaa, as she is also known, presents her utter confusion when placed in dilemmas as when she was given the choice between respective her mother-in-law and marrying all five brothers, or disrespecting her and marrying only Arjuna.

Pratibha Ray has cleverly brought out women's place during those times - though women were exalted and regarded very highly, their position especially among the kings as next to wealth and kingdoms is revealed. Pratibha also questions why it is only the chastity of women that is always under question - why it is that when men could have many wives, women could not have many husbands; and therefore her eternal question - why is she ridiculed even today in spite of all the sacrifices she underwent.

Pradip's English translation is simple and brings out pictures of the emotions and feelings of Draupadi vividly. I can imagine that he has tried his best to give justice to the Oriya work, and would say that he has succeeded. Yajnaseni makes wonderful reading, and not only because Mahabharata by Veda Vyasa is a living treasure!

Pratibha Ray's Yagnaseni: The Story of Draupadi. really well-translated (it was in Oriya originally, I think). If only Ashok Banker could write half as lyrically as Pradip Bhattacharya can translate, I would be a happy man. Yagnaseni is really, really well-written. Rparvaaz: Yagyaseni was rather well translated.

THE STATESMAN, 8TH DAY, Spotlight: Epic moments Brought Alive Love Stories From The Mahabharata By Subodh Ghosh, Translated by Pradip Bhattacharya It has been said and many believe that translations lack much of the magic of the original. Therefore, it is better to say in the beginning that these two delightful books are not so much translations but transcreations i.e. they take away nothing from the original, capture the interest of the reader and are praiseworthy in themselves.

Love Stories From The Mahabharata, brought into lush and vivid life by Pradip Bhattacharya, highlights little known romances from the great epic. It has rightly been said in the introduction by Major- General SK Sen that Vyasa ignores most of the women characters in the Mahabharata. It is the men and the social ramifications of those times that he lays stress on. Subodh Ghosh on the other hand has fleshed out these women and brought them to blazing life in his work. Transcreator Pradip Bhattacharya also does not lag behind in this process.

In Love Stories, we get dignified women, battered by fate and their love for their men they do not lose a shred of their dignity in the process. Consider Princess Lopa in Lopamudra and Agastya. Daughter of the Vidharbha King, brought up in the lap of luxury, she nevertheless marries the harsh Rishi Agastya, because of a vow made to the sage by her father. There is also the fact that this beautiful, golden-complexioned princess is in love with the cold and unperturbed sage. But Agastya ignores her pleading eyes and insists that she leaves behind all her ornaments and costly clothes in the palace as all this does not befit a rishi-bride. Obeying him Lopa accompanies him to the hermitage where all her loving overtures are met by stern rebuffs from her husband. Ultimately one day Agastya falls in love with this very same princess he had rejected as a woman. He goes to her with tender words only to find that gentle Lopa has become as hard as stone. She will only consent to be his wife if he brings back all the jewels that he had made her reject. Hurt, Agastya wanders off to bring for Lopa all the ornaments that she craves. Finally he returns to her with all that she had wanted. But when Lopa finally goes to him, it is without her jewels because, “ I am not a lover of ornaments, rishi”. Humbled and filled with joy, Agastya finally understands his wife, the woman, who is not less of a woman for being a princess, Lopamudra.

Then there is proud King Atirath who scorns the love of the courtesan Pingala because he sees only a prostitute in her and not the loving heart of the woman. Ultimately he realizes the worth of Pingala only when he loses her forever. Neglected Chandreyi, beloved daughter of Soma, the Moon God, wins over her husband Rishi Uthaya, even after surrendering to Varun, lord of the Ocean in an unguarded moment. However, the author and transcreator has been hard on the men. Do they even deserve the women who love them, we are moved to wonder. We find little to admire in lustful Agni, rigid bound-by-a-vow-Galav, arrogant Ruru and weak Mandapal. King Parikshit and maybe King Janaka restore our faith in the sterner sex somewhat, but it is merely a weak flicker. The draw of the novel lies in the strength of its women.

Love Stories speak to the reader because of the contemporary nature of its women. Even in the 21st century we would be hard put to find such emancipation as we find in these epic women. Flighty Sushobhana treats her lovers with ruthless coquetry, abandoning them when the pleasure of the moment is over. But she herself is humbled by the love of King Parikshit and surrenders willingly to it.

The Princess-turned-ascetic Sulabha’s love for the Videha king, philosopher Janaka, is a poem that flows in this book. It is sheer poetry that is cloaked in prose which stems from the author’s pen, when he describes this all knowing, all sacrificing love. Reading this book we come away with a deeper understanding of the great epic and its truly emancipated but little known women, who experienced all the anguish of deep love (Galav - Madhavi, Agni -Svaha, Indra- Shruvavati among others) but did not sacrifice their sense of self for it.

From the sonorous Love Stories which rings in our minds like mighty temple bells, the charming Puranic Tales For Cynical People, dances like a chuckling spring across our consciousness. The light and biting wit of Parashuram is captured by his transcreators.

Did you know that Hanuman wanted to get married but discarded the idea in his own imitable way (Hanuman’s Dream)? Did you know that Bhima got reunited with his rakshsha wife, Hidima, (Reunion) only when he appeared to her in the form of a meal? Did you know that the fearsome demoness, Surpanakha, became a loving aunt, with wooden nose and ear pieces, which only falls off when she becomes hysterical while relating the tragic end of her love-story to her niece (Surpanakha’s Remniscences)?

Fiery Durvasa is humbled by a small boy of ten in the Kali Yug (Bharat’s Rattle); Ram Rajya (The Rule Of Rama) and the politics of power is a piece full of gentle irony which spares no one; Balaram explains that while Dharmaraj Yudhistira is chock-full of moral sense he is more than deficient in the practical sense (The Third Dice Game) --something which we had more than suspected!

This sparkling tome is a gem with something in it for everyone. Pradip Bhattacharya and Shekhar Sen have been true to Rajshekhar Basu’s concise and acerbic style.

Both these books are ideal for monsoon days-- when sheets of rain splash outside and epic tales come alive. --Amreeta Sen

Arti Dhand's study of Mahabharata women, "Woman as fire; woman as sage" has been reviewed by Pradip Bhattacharya


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Created by Sushma Gupta On 03/09/02
Modified on 12/01/12