Wednesday, August 4

Scholar brings back oldest Bengali Mahabharata to life

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Most of us think that the Mahabharata translated into Bengali by Kashiram Das in the 16th century was the first attempt to bring the Sanskrit epic closer to Bengali readers. However, it was actually Kavi Sanjay — who, according to the history of Bengali literature — was the first popularly accepted Bengali poet, translated the epic into Bengali exactly a century before.

Unfortunately, this translation was lost to time and Kasiram Das’s work became popular through royal patronage. Finally, a city scholar, retired bureaucrat Pradip Bhattacharya has brought Kavi Sanjay’s work back to life through his English translation.

Though he was the first known Bengali poet, Kavi Sanjay’s prowess remained completely unknown save for passing references. However, in 1969, a research scholar at Calcutta University — M K Ghosh — dug out 70 manuscripts of the 15th century poet from archives in Kamrup, Silchar, Sylhet, Tripura, Chittagong, Dhaka, Mymensingh, Rajshahi, and other places where the poet lived and worked. Ghosh painstakingly recovered the text of Kavi Sanjay’s Mahabharata and compiled it for readers. Even this 1969 invaluable edition is lost today, save for a reference text in the Calcutta University library.

Bhattacharya has been working on different versions of the Mahabharata for several years. This includes completion of the English translation of the 18 parvas that was started by educationist P Lal and a translation of Jaimini’s version of Vyasa’s Mahabharata. “During my research, I stumbled upon the fact that Kavi Sanjay was the first to translate Mahabharata into Bengali in the 15th century. My hunt was fruitless till I came across Ghosh’s compilation. I was convinced after reading it that I needed to translate this for the people.”

Coincidentally, around that time the state government was looking to fund a literary project and the project was funded through the Netaji Institute of Asian Studies,” Bhattacharya said. His translation of Sanjay’s Bengali Mahabharata into English has just been published.

Sanjay’s version of the Mahabharata, is in the panchali format meant for the rustic audience, using the poyar meter (each line of the rhymed couplet consisting of eight syllables followed by a caesura and six syllables).

Sanjay’s version of the Mahabharata is quite different from Vyasa’s original rendering of the epic in Sanskrit. He introduced several fairy tales that are not in Vyasa’s version. These were brought in, keeping the Bengali psyche and cultural fabric of the time in mind.

 

Source: Times of India

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