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Pandemic: Readings Revisited (Rereading Bharat Dynasty as a classical oral tradition of India)

Pandemic: Readings Revisited

(Rereading Bharat Dynasty as a classical oral tradition of India)

Arup Kumar Bag

M. Phil. Scholar

Department of English

Kolkata, West Bengal, India


We are standing on the verge of such a span where everything seems dark. The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated our lives in many ways and the negativity that 2020 has produced, is something we are constantly trying to overcome through different modalities. It is true that the Pandemic has snatched many opportunities; but it has given us at least one boon. Those who were fond of reading, the pandemic has widen the path towards our leisure reading- a sphere where we can think deeper about textbooks; can probe deeper into the formation of a better human society and can relate how literature and life are related through the deepest bonds of philosophy. During the pandemic, what we have seen is a two-fold change in the existing systems. On one hand, we have found people who have lost their jobs; and roaming here and there to search for an identity. To them, even the idea of ‘Home’ has also collapsed. The four walls were not strong enough to hold the roof tight and withstand the storm and the whole sky became an umbrella for them. On the other, we have seen socio-political upheaval across India that somehow has stirred the humanitarian aspects in us. There has been much negative influence that has paralyzed the individual systems, and the most important sphere that has been affected thoroughly was the Academic sector. For some major part of India, the education system has become sterile. The students have started accepting the new normal by forgetting the individual identities of teachers, classrooms, books, games, syllabi and so on. What remains static is a smart phone that has restricted all the necessary activities of life. To a student, a smart phone has become everything and that has caused them a great psychological ill-health as Vikas Menon writes:

“The first mobile software application (‘app’) became available for use in 2008. Since then, an exponential growth in the number of apps has resulted in more than 10,000 of them with a quarter of them dealing with mental health disorders: of these 6% can be used to evaluate core mental health outcomes while another 18% deal with more peripheral issues such as sleep, appetite, relaxation and substance use.” (05).

Not only pandemic, but the Americanization of Indian culture has also paved the way towards destruction of aesthetics in us. Settling abroad for a better economy has paved the way towards materialistic success but has curbed the relation with ‘root’ which has caused them losing a cultural identity. But interesting enough to ask ourselves, is this the education that the great sages and leaders have thought of? While probing deeper about the question, my reading took me to look at one of the classic books that may provide some answers, and that was- Bharat Dynasty.

     Bharat Dynasty is written by Sri Madhobi Maa, the chief living exponent of the age old Tantric school- “Gyanganj Sourya Parampara”. Though she is a guru and always has thought of the betterment of the nation through Yoga workshops and religious symposiums, her greatest interest in history and literature has produced too many works. She always has tried to cater to the humanity through different means, but she really wanted to do something for children, specifically the Indian ones. She believes that educating children about the heritage of Indian culture should always be a first priority. There is no doubt that in case of educating the children of the nation, she has a vision like that of Mary Wollstonecraft. There is no knowledge in this world that Indian philosophy and Indian literature cannot cater to. The name ‘Bharatbarsh’ has always been a great storehouse of knowledge as she writes: “The word ‘Bharat’ means- a nation committed in the light of consciousness. Bharat as a nation, because of this particular character, had been providing long standing peace to the whole world and would continue to do so in the future. This is the single nation which is always engaged in unveiling the hidden light of consciousness…” As a scholar of classical literature, she has devoted her entire life studying the old Hindu and Bouddha scriptures and her lifelong research has produced Bharat Dynasty. The materials are heavily drawn from Brihadaranyak Upanishad, Matsya Purana, The Mahabharata [written by Krishna-Dwaipayana Sri Veda Vyasa] and Kalidas’ Avigyana Shakuntalam. From the title, one may think that, perhaps, she is delineating the old tales of Upanishads in a new form so as to give it a space of fictional elements to conjoin the history of myths [like that of Amish Tripathi]. But that is not she intends to do here. Her intentions are clear and explicit as the book maintains a traditional way of ‘telling the tales’. The Upanishads of India have tried to restore by penning them down so as to teach the next generation how India is enriched so far as its classical aesthetics and morality are concerned.

     The book is divided into thirty two chapters containing the tales and happenings before the great story of The Mahabharata begins. Many versions of the epic (including the films and serialized versions) begin the story where Satyabati meets with King Shantanu and Bhisma is born. The original version of Mahabharata begins in ‘medias res’ with King Janmajaya who performed the great yajna where the story of Mahabharata is first told. But that is not the case what we witness in case of Bharat Dynasty. There is a long chronology before Mahabharata which began with Daksha Prajapati, the first king who legitimized the idea of ‘Dynasty’. The book takes us back to the old history of Lord Brahma, Hrishi Kashyapa and the origin of the Moon. Puru Dynasty is considered to be the dynasty of the Moon who was once the king of elixir. The book gradually unfolds the history of Yayati and Puru dynasty, its descendents- specially; King Dushyanta and Shakuntala, King Bharat, Devi Ganga and the curse of Ashta Vasu. In the concluding chapters, there are tales that are woven towards unfolding the lineage of Pancha Pandavas. The book is an amalgamation of history and its relation with classical literature. It is also a historical documentation of the Puru dynasty long before the existence of the same. Though the book has a classical sense to convey, yet it carries some contemporary importance that can be relatable in the recent scenario.         

     Under the veil of modernization and Americanization, we have started forgetting our own cultural values. The rush towards the English medium schools has given us the opportunity to relate ourselves with the West. But, at the same time, we are not paying attention to our own classical tradition and literature. Reading Shakespeare and Wordsworth has narrowed the way where these tales can find a place in the school curriculum. Bharat Dynasty is a book that is beautifully written in a lucid language. On one hand, the book gives us the historical information regarding the Dynasties we belong to. On the other hand, it gives us a flavor of the classic tales of the epic with strong visualizations of the colourful images. These, in a way, enhance the interest in the readers, specifically in children. Secondly, the tales (chapters) are written in a way that every chapter is linked with the other like the Aesop’s Fables or Pancha Tantrer Golpo, and some chapters contain an implicit moral as well which is not written down. This is a deeper probing into the human nature and to make ourselves understand what is good for the human self. The author wants the readers to discover the moral by their own so that the readers’ ability towards a greater humanitarian understanding can be achieved. Thirdly, the tales of the book can enrich the children by providing them the information about their own culture. Irrespective of caste, creed and religion, anyone can have a deeper probing about the heritage of India- the great tales of Upanishads.

     The tales capsules the morals and direct us to realize the selection of our choices. There is a sharp argument regarding how sublime Godlike status is achieved on humanitarian grounds. Bharat Dynasty teaches us some moral lessons as well. For example, the idea of crime and punishment and how one has been abducted from Power only for their corruption and deeds are narrated. For example- the tale of Dyu who along with Prithu and other Vishus stole Kamdhenu from Sage Vashista. And, as a result, all the eight Vishus are punished to take mortal shape and die like humans. All of them were saved later by Ganga Devi who immersed the eight sons of King Shantanu and gave birth to the ninth (Bhisma) who lived a life only to witness the great fall of Puru Dynasty. The book unfolds the tale of kingly responsibilities as well. Chapter- IX explores the tale of Dushyanta and Shakuntala. The author believes that what Kalidasa has delineated in his Avigyan Shakuntalam, is his imagination and there was no such evidence in Vyasa’s Mahabharata regarding sage Durbasa’s curse that make Dushyanta forget everything about Shakuntala. Monier Williams, one of the chief translators of Kalidasa, mentions in his translation of Shakuntala that: “Chezy, has a note of referring vishaya-paran-mukhasyapi janasya to Kanva: but a comparison of other passages shews that by ayam janah the person or persons speaking are commonly intended… An aryam, lit. ‘anything unworthy or dishonourable’ i.e. according to them, Sakuntala-vismarana-rupam- ‘consisting of the forgetting of Sakuntala.” (144).  According to the author, King Dushyanata knew everything and recognized Shakuntala at the very moment he saw her in the court. But despite knowing everything, King Dushyanta has to test his wife only to set the proof that the responsibilities of a king is far greater and painful than that of a husband and a father. The Mass for which the King is elected, has to serve the men first and then his family; and that is what we see in case of King Dushyanta. The kingly duties also include maintaining a respect towards every woman and that is why Shakuntala’s quest was very much needed as the King replies: “My beloved! In the lonely forest I married you, nobody knew of that; lest the fault- finding persons should call you unchaste, me lustful and our son, the crown-prince, a bastard that I out of this fear was behaving with you this way.” (45). It is true that Shakuntala had to face too many obstacles and too much humiliation but the way Dushyanta gave her a permanent status, proves him to be a wise and responsible king.

     The book also explores some of the unspoken and unheard facts about Mahabharata. For example, the chapter on Chitrangada [not Arjuna’s wife but Bhisma’s brother] that is very much deleted in many versions of the epic. He was coronated first after King Shantanu; and he ruled the kingdom for several years. He was slain in a battle by Chitrangada, a Gandharva king of his own name who created an illusion. Besides, it also explores something that the history and epic books sometimes do not tell us. We are told that king Yudhisthira had one hundred sons and one daughter [Duhshala]. But this is not true as the author believes that this is a deviation from the Vyasa’s version:

“When Gandhari was pregnant, she felt very much tired and fatigued and as such could not serve her husband during that period. Therefore, a maid servant [Sughada,] was engaged to look after and serve Dhritarastra. That maid servant became pregnant in the company of Dhritarastra dusring that perios and in due course she gave birth to a male child. That male child was named as Yuyutsu. Thus, Dhritarastra produced one hundred sons and one daughter through Gandhari and one son by the name Yuyutsu through the maid servant.” (95).          

According to the version of Vyasa, Yuyutsu was the sole Kourava who fought against Duryodhana and was alive after the great Kurukshetra war. We find the mentioning of Yuyutsu in the ‘Drona Parva’ of Vyasa’s Mahabharata:

“O, what heroes (of my army) surrounded those valiant princes whom they rushed towards Drona for slaying him? That lord of battle, that foremost of bowmen, that hero of unbaffled aim and great strength, that tiger among men, viz., Yuyutsu, whom many wrathful kings battling together for six monthsat Varana- vata from desire of slaying him could not vanquish…” (21).

Besides, we do not know exactly what the names of the Kourabas are. The book provides a full length study of the lineage of the Kourabas.         

     The book is important for another reason too. The tales are told one by one and they are done in such a way that it reminds us of our own childhood when we used to listen to the tales of Ramayana and Mahabharata from our Grandmothers. There is sense of ‘telling’ which helps us to realize and connect with our own nostalgia of ‘Homeland’. After the diaspora studies has been introduced, it became explicit that the ‘uprooting’ of ourselves from our homeland to the host-land has caused a separation in Bengali joint families and has produced too many nuclear families. Many of them have the absence of the grandparents and thus, the ‘storytelling’ culture is negotiating its existence continuously to find an existence. During Pandemic, some of us have come back from overseas; but many haven’t got the chance. For them, perhaps, the nostalgia of the homeland is very much subsistent and that is what we have realized in Bharat Dynasty, because there is a sense of ‘root’ which has been exterminated by a consumerist bourgeois materialistic culture.

     In recent times, we do not talk much about our lineage and ‘Dynasty’. We almost do not care about it as it may be regarded as a sign of boasting off to prioritize an identity over another. Even the idea of lineage as a ‘Gotra’ is also declining gradually as we do not use it unless we go to a temple for praying our offerings. There lies the most important question that though one can assume that Bharat Dynasty is an important text as it may restore the aesthetics of classical culture, does the term ‘Dynasty’ at all bear any significance in the contemporary time? Many of us, perhaps, ask the question as to why read a book that only unfolds the mythical tales? The only answer is that the book very typically gives us a flavor of classical literature and a sense of ‘Home’. And it also reminds us of the nostalgia of childhood that is lost under the pressure of ‘Growing up’. Perhaps, we will again witness a day in near future when children will read stories from books and will listen to Grandma’s tales, and the electronic gadgets will not be a mode of education. Yes! The pandemic is here, and we have to overcome this as well- the pandemic of modernization; the pandemic of gadgetization; the pandemic of westernization.            

Works Cited

Maa, Madhobi. Bharat Dynasty. New Delhi: Manab Seva Mahal, 1995. 

Menon, Vikas. “Psychotherapeutic Applications of Mobile Phone- based Technologies: A Systematic Review of Current Research and Trends.” Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine. Vol. 39, 1 (2017).

Vyasa, Veda. The Mahabharata. Translated by Pratap Chandra Roy. Calcutta: Oriental Publishing Co., n.d.

Williams, Monier. Sakuntala, trans. Oxford: Oxford University Press Warehouse.