I K Shukla

[ Despite nominally being the history of Bharat dynasty, Mahabharata is, in fact, the history of Satyawati-Dwaipayana dynasty ...... Considered sociologically, the story of Mahabharata would seem to be the last revenge of the natives — non-Aryan, dark coloured hybrid, baffled by (the new) racial differences - against the foreign Aryan rulers. The history of the loss of glorious blue blood. The prevalence of racial consideration in Hinduism notwithstanding, purity of blood disappeared from the Indian soil aeons ago. This grand narrative of the Bharatas documents the same.

    Foreword to Mahabharater Maharanye]


pics attempt to inscribe racial heroics on the template of time in studiedly grandiose terms. They are not so much about moral absolutes as about a mode of life prevalent among people in a bygone age. That is why embellishments and exaggerations, fancy and fact, myth and legend, history and hearsay — all gatecrash to be included. The  large conspectus of the epic conditions determines the contours and splendour of its portagonists and their exploits. And, epics like Mahabharata, are prone by their very nature to be palimpsests, consecutive generations avidly adding their bits to the national tome. Epics aim at ‘‘racial’’ immortality. Whatever is in it becomes immortal. That explains the claim Yanna Bharate Tanna Bharate (Whatever isn't in Mahabharata, isn't in Bharat). All that deserves to be in, is in. A similar claim (Yanna Manase Tanna Manase) has been made lately in behalf of Tulasidas’ Ramacharitamanasa by Dr Sita Ram Diwakar in his scholarly work in Hindi ''Ramacharitamanasa Men Rishiyon Ki Bhumika.''

In all history, it is victors who write and record their life and times. Life-a cavalcade of glory, times-a fabulous spectacle. The vanquished are doubly disappeared. Once by exclusion from the national saga, next by the avalanche of blatant partisanship commemorating the oppressors as

heroes. All the gore, greed, and grimness of immoral adventures and unjust aggressions are adroitly turned into a simple equation of good defeating evil. Simplism, embedded in lies, can be easily assimilated to memory as righteousness.

My preoccupation with Mahabharata, intermittent and intense, for over 50 years, perhaps qualifies me as a lay reader to keep looking for answers to questions that keep nagging. To begin with a simple query : why would anyone name his sons Duryodhana, Dusshasana? A little relief camte to me as a teenager when I found them named as Suyodhana and Sushasana in the Sankshipt Mahabharata (Hindi) of Acharya Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi published in the 30s by the Inidian Press, Allahabad. By the way, its owner, Chintamani Ghosh, a Bengali, was busy promoting Hindi literature. It wasn't regarded unnatural or unholy in those days. Indian Press played a major role in the annals of Hindi literature by inviting the Great Patriarch of Hindi literature, Dwivedi, to edit the famous Hindi monthly Saraswati which moulded a whole generation of eminent Hindi writers.

But, it was, after all, an abridged version of the epic. So, I read the 10-volume Hindi Mahabharata by Chaturvedi Dwaraka Prasad Sharma, published by Ram Narayan Lal, Allahabad, another major publisher of the times. Oddly, this reading further increased the number of my questions. Several English versions, read later, were no better in this regard. Finally, I chanced upon Irawati Karve's Yugant, a study of Mahabharata, in English, at a friend's place in Germany in the 70s. This was a refreshing break from the repetitive, received wisdom, in that it boldly questioned, clarified or critically commented on, and overturned certain popular assumptions. The epic remained no more a temple in my eyes, but stood as a palace of smoke and mirrors, a labyrinth, a loop.