Mahiravanacarita has been an episode of the Ramayana, and was adopted by many writers of the medieval times, throughout the country with minor variations, which have the subject matter of discussion with various commentators in the past. In this work an attempt has been made to critically examine the theme, with reference to various versions found in several regional texts and their depiction in Indian miniatures, besides other sources of art. The comprehensive coverage of the theme in this work brings out the conception of the artist as well as the composers of the Romayarjas in the different Indian languages. But strangely enough, the composers of these works, belonging to different regions in the country, have maintained the fundamentals of the theme inspite of numerous variations in details. The work therefore provides a bird’s eye view of the theme as propounded in various texts and is therefore likely to interest one and all.
The author, a Graduate of the Punjab University, served in the curatorial capacity in the Central Asian Antiquities Museum, New Delhi, the Archaeological Museum, Nalanda, and Archaeological section of the Indian Museum, Calcutta for a number of years. He has to his credit the scientific documentation of over fifty thousand antiquities, in these museums, representing the rich cultural heritage of the country and comprising of sculptures, bronzes, terracottas, beads, seals and sealings, ancient Indian numismatics, wood work, miniatures and paintings, textiles and Pearce collection of gems, ranging from earliest times to the late medieval period. He was awarded, in 1987 a Fellowship for his monograph on the Temples of Himachal Pradesh by the Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi. The glimpses of the author's published works are provided hereunder:-
(1) The Universal Mother (2) Temples of Himachal Pradesh (3) The Indian Monoliths (4) Protection, Conservation and Preservation of Indian Monuments (5) Working Manual and Field Works Code 3 volumes, of the Archaeological Survey of India (6) Mahisasuramardini in Indian Art (7) Composite Deities in Indian Art and Literature (8) Gaurda, the Celestial Bird (9) The Cult of Vinayaka (10) Jatakas in Indian Art (11) Image of Brahma in India and Abroad (12) Siva in Art, Literature and Thought (13) Varaha in Indian Art, Culture and Literature (14) Surya and Sun-Cult in Indian Art, Thought, Literature and Culture (15) Maruti-Hanuman.
The story of Ramayana has been dominating the Indian religious scene from the time immemorial. Before its having been brought in the form of a written manuscript, by Valmiki, several folk-tales connected with it had been current in the contemporary society some of which were incorporated by Valmiki in his epic. This could be evidenced from the fact that it was Narada, who narrated the story of Rama in brief to Valmiki, who developed the same ostensibly incorporating some of the then current traditions, folk-tales and local beliefs, besides his own poetic imagination. The subsequent writers of the same story almost followed the pattern of Valmiki, with slight variations here and there, incorporating at the same time some contemporary social, political, upheavals in their narrations, or by interpolation of the texts composed earlier. This would speak for the numerous interpolations so commonly found in the ancient Indian manuscripts.
The episode of Mahiravana, possibly had been a folk-lore, which was adopted by the Indian writers in the early medieval times, but it gained popularity in the late medieval period, when many works on the subject were created on the Indian soil spreading the theme from north to south and east to west. The artist too got attracted towards this theme and though its sculptural evidence is rare, it was found on the coins of the Kalcuri rulers. In miniatures, the theme was, however, quite lively depicted.
Most of the illustrations included in this work, come from the National Museum, and I am extremely indebted to Dr. Daljeet, Keeper, Painting Section who was kind enough to provide me the necessary facilities for the purpose. My grateful thanks are also due to R.K. Datta Gupta, who was nice enough to arrange for the coloured photographs for my use from the National Museum.
The epiSode concerning Mahiravana, forms part of the story of Rcimayana, though it does not form part of the Vcilmiki Ramayatta and the subsequent literature of several centuries. It was possibly a folk-tale connected with the story of the Ramciyana, like several other episodes which were added by the later writers. Indeed the story of Rama has been popular with the people of the Indian sub-continent from the time immemorial. Its antiquity could be judged from the fact that the story had been current well before the time of Valmiki himself, as glimpses of the same were provided by Narada to Valmiki, who having been inspired by this briefing composed verse and projected it in a developed form in a poetic excellence.
(In the Iksavaku dynasty, there had been a person who was popularly known as Rama; he was the one who could control his mind, was a great warrior, illustrious, patient and the one who could control his senses).
The above verse of the sage Narada was followed by other broad outlines of story by Valmiki, possibly incorporating several of the then current folk-lores, in shaping his celebrated work of the Rcimilyarja. After him, the story of Rama had been the subject matter of works composed by numerous poets and writers in a variety of forms, viz: kavyas, plays, campus etc. Whosoever based on his work on the story of Rama, or an episode connected with main theme, could hardly resist the temptation of illumining his work with (i) the contemporary social or political events fresh in the then human mind; (ii) the popular folklores current at that point of time but which were not projected in earlier works; and further incorporating some events or scenes of his own poetic imagination.
These were possibly the reasons for the innumerable interpolations so frequently found in the texts of the Riimayanas starting from the one composed by sage Valmiki. Of the numerous additions, interpolations or the folk-lores, subsequently added in the original texts, the story of Mahiravana, (which is also titled sometimes as Hanuman Patala-Vijaya) happens to be one of them. The stage, at which the story got popular with the poets, would be difficult to spell out, but all indications point to its emergence on the Indian literary scene sometimes in the early medieval times.
The main theme of the story is that Ravana, after having lost all his eminent soldiers and army generals, summoned his son (or friend as he is sometimes described) to help him in defeating the two Ayodhya princes, Rama and Laksmana. Inspite of the strict vigil by Hanuman in Rama's camp, Mahiravana abducts both the Ayodhya princes to pciulla-loka, where both of them were to be sacrificed at the temple of Goddess Nikumbhiala. Hanuman, however, reached the place,. killed Mahiravana and rescued both the princes back to their camp. These scenes from Mahiravana episode found favour with the artist as well and in order to identify or correlate these scenes with the subjugation of Mahiravana or Ahiravana or both, one has to refer to the texts in which the slaying of Mahiravana or Ahiravana, or even both, is narrated. The depiction of the story of Mahiravana in sculptural art is rarely found, but interestingly the same is found projected in the Kalacuri coins of 10th century A.D. These coins depict Hanuman trampling over a demon or two. In these coins in three instances a single demon is shown and in the fourth case two demons are shown being slain by Hanuman. Taking into consideration that the story of Mahiravana had been quite popular during the medieval times, there would be no surprise if these demon figures on coins represent Mahiravana and Ahiravana. Coming to the literary sources, one of the earliest reference of the episode of Mahiravana is available in the Mahiravanacarita, referred to by Camel Bulke in his work (p. 478 ff).
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