Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

A Literary Causerie

Dr. D. Anjaneyulu

Of the ancient Indian epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the attribute ‘Maha’ is applied to the latter, with no disrespect to the former, which is cherished as the ‘Adikavya’. It could be because of its size (with almost a hundred thousand slokas), the vastness of its range and the bewildering number and variety of its characters. Not so much because of its poetry as for the insight into human character and the element of real politik that seems to dominate and decide the nature of human relations and the course of events. The contemporary relevance of the conflicts of kith and kin, the futility of family rivalries and the fatality of hubris, the art of diplomacy and the problems of peacemaking would be obvious even to the common reader.

P. Lal’s easy, imaginative and eminently readable transcreation in English of the great epic in its entirety is a tour de force of modern times. He has done it in about 150 volumes. He has followed it up with two substantial volumes of critical in sights on the subject by a number of learned authors, including himself. The second volume of these ‘Creative Insights’, running to almost 600 pages edited by Lal himself (Writers Workshops, 162/92 Lake Gardens, Calcutta - 700 045) is a veritable treasure house of information and interpretation.

In discussing the message of Vyasa, who is hailed as the supreme hero, Lal says:

“Yes, of course, ‘from Dharma comes success and pleasure’ but what else? Isn’t there a multiplicity of messages in the Mahabharata? “This collection tries to bring Vyasa’s Vak and its meaning guessed, intuited, imagined, symbolised, interpreted, examined, cross-examined, even – gently deconstructed - across to today’s intelligent and sensitive reader”.

In his bibliographical notes on ‘Four Vyasa Bhaktas, Lal mentions that the standard text is the scholarly and reliable recension of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, prepared under the supervision of V.S. Sukhtankar. This was the one followed by J.A.B. Van Buitenan in his translation for the University of Chicago Press. Of the verse translation (of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata)by Ramesh Chunder Dult (dedicated to Prof. Max Muller), it is worth knowing that he had chosen the Locksley Hall hexameter for his verse and A.C. Bradley’s ‘Shakespearean Tragedy’ for character criticism. The book, though dated, could still be useful.

A lot more important is the revelation that what had been popularly accepted as ‘the P.C. Roy translation’ for decades, almost a century, was actually the handiwork of an unassuming and dedicated scholar, Kisari Mohan Ganguli, who preferred to remain anonymous. While Roy was the printer and publisher as also fund raiser, Ganguli was the actual translator. Justice is done to his memory at least now. Better late than never.

Irawati Karve’s ‘Yuganta’, translated from Marathi, is primarily a shrewd study of Vyasa’s characters, with rational conclusions. She looks at all the familial problems in the modern sociological perspective, explaining the validity of Niyoga marriage and other practices in a convincing manner.

The contents of Volume II are classified under five heads: Poetry; Story; Critique; Criticism; and Book Reviews. Krishna Chaitanya, in his ‘Creative Interpretations’, says: ‘If any character is to be regarded as the hero of the epic, Karna has the best claim”. His moral stature is revealed in the fact that he saw his victory in his death or in spite of it. That is what makes him the conqueror of death, “Mrityunjaya”, which is the title of Shivaji Sawant’s provocative novel on Karna. He is hailed as a tragic hero in the grand manner by Bharati Ray in her review. A fair fighter and a true hero. Similar but qualified sentiment is expressed by Prema Nandakumar, when she describes Karna’s life as Vyasa’s richest gift to his authorial successors.

There are erudite and original, even unconventional, disquisitions on the ethical, aesthetic and all other possible aspects of the all - embracing epic. This becomes required reading for understanding the true meaning, along with the contemporary relevance, of a national classic of unfading significance.

Other religious traditions too need similar treatment, each in his own way. That of the Zoroastrians (Parsis, as they are popularly known), for instance. They form a small, close knit community, primarily concentrated in Bombay, but with a widespread influence at home and abroad. Their population may not exceed a hundred thousand or so but they have proved great achievers in banking, business and industry, among other fields. They have managed to combine tradition and modernity in a spontaneous, unself­conscious manner.

This voluminous book of 700-odd pages (The Zarathushtrian Saga, also brought out by Writers Workshop), the author Tina Mehta makes it clear at the very outset, is not a religious book, but a book about a religion, Zarathustrainism (or Zoroastrainsim, as we have come to know it in English). Even so, the message of the Prophet is presented not as a religious philosophical discourse, but in fictional form. Its very title would suggest famous novels like The Forsythe Saga by John Galsworthy and Buddenbroohs by Thomas Mann. Like them, it is also the story of three or more generations.

In the words of Mary Boyee, a specialist in Iranian Studies, it is a novel with a purpose, using real memories and experiences as ingredients. Starting with a traditional Zoroastrain family in the 1940’s, it follows the fortunes of one of its members into a third generation in London, with all the adjustments needed to maintain the traditional way of life in an alien and modern setting.

The author explains that the book seeks to reinforce the Prophet’s message to his followers to abjure Evil and increase Good in their day-to-day lives. A qualified yoga instructor and faith - healer, she believes in the basic tenets of her religion and makes an earnest effort here to interpret and illustrate them in an imaginative, literary form.

It is generally assumed by those with inadequate knowledge of the subject that Sanskrit literature is ritualistic in content and reactionary in effect. The ritualistic part is, of course, there, along with the religious and the metaphysical. But we cannot afford to ignore the other elements, viz the scientific and astronomical as well as the aesthetic and philosophically unconventional.

Mahamahopadhyaya Prof. S. Kuppuswami Sastri was widely respected as an erudite scholar and popular teacher, who had trained a band of eminent professors like Dr. V. Raghavan. But his output as an author was not proportionate to the range and depth of his learning. Whatever he had left for posterity was of high quality and striking originality. It was mainly in the form of lectures in the University.

Two slim volumes ofhis work have recently been brought out by the Kuppuswami Sastri Research Institute. One is ‘Highways and Byways Literary Criticism in Sanskrit’; and the other “Compromises in the History of Advaitic Thought”. The first comprises a series offour lectures at Annamalai University in 1931; and the second consists oftwo lectures at the University of Madras in 1940.

“Highway” is a public, well-known way with a fixed goal, explains the author, and ‘byway’ a short route or secret route, always subordinate to the highway. After referring to various trends ofliterary criticism in English, historical, biographical, neocriticism, impressionism, etc., he seeks to remove the antipathy between the exponents of creative art and art criticism.

Tracing literacy criticism in India to the Rgveda, he touches upon the insights implicit in Valmiki and Kalidasa. He surveys the whole range of literary aesthetics from Bhamaha (Kavyalankara) and Dandin (Karyadarsa) to Rajasekhara (Kavyamimamsa), Anandavardhana (Dhvanyaloka) and Abhinavagupta (Dhavanyalokalochana), and discusses the various theories relating to Sahrdaya, Rasa, Dhvani, and the meaning of Pratibha. From which he makes the generalisation that the keynote of Indian culture is synthesis, which applies to literary criticism as well so to spiritual knowledge. Expanded further, it means the synthesis of the artist and the art critic, of the poet and the responsive critic, of criticism and genius.

In his lecturers on Advaitic thought, Professor Sastri speaks mainly about certain typical cases of accommodation, which are worthy of notice during the Vedic and post - Vedic Ages, covering Samkara, Padmapada, Vachaspati, Vimuktatma, as also the systems of Ramanuja and Madhva, followed by Appayya Dikshita, Madhusudana Saraswati and Brahmananda Saraswati.

On the Limits of compromise, he is all praise for Mandana who had shown a rare courage by preferring to remain a sweetly reasonable accommodative and eclectic type of Advaitin. He cites John Morley to distinguish between a wise compromise, which doesn’t adversely affect the basic principle and others which are otherwise.

The Professor’s stand is neatly summed up by Dr. S. Radhakrishnan who says loyalty to the Indian tradition “requires us to move forward, and not stand still, in the world of philosophic and religious thought”.

            “Eclipses in Hindu Life and Thought,” by Dr. (Mrs.) Jayashree Hariharan, is a monograph, also published by the Kuppuswami Sastri Research Institute. It was made possible with the financial support from Captain Dr. G. Srinivasa Murti Foundation. By its very nature, the topic is both technical and literary, vast, varied and complicated. The project was completed under the guidance of Dr. S. S. Janaki, former Director of the Institute.

Arranged into five chapters, the monograph has brought together and analysed relevant mythological, semi-scientific and scientific information on eclipses (grahanas) scattered in the Vedas, epics, puranas, Jyotisha and Dharma Sastra Literature.


Astronomers like Brahmagupta, Bhaskara, and Sripati, besides scientifically computing the eclipses, have tried to bring about a reconciliation by stating that Rahu, through the medium of moon and shadow of earth causes solar and lunar eclipses respectively. The evil effects of eclipses on human beings and the prescribed rituals and expiatory acts to counteract them are also explained in detail.

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