Text and Variations of The Mahabharata

Item Code: NAF684
Author: Kalyan Kumar Chakravary
Publisher: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 9788190402996
Pages: 359 (4 Color Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.0 inch X 6.0 inch
Weight 600 gm
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Book Description
About The Book

The National Mission for Manuscripts was established as a five-year project in February 2003 by the Department of culture, the Ministry of Tourism and culture, Government of India. Its purpose is to locate, document, preserve and disseminate the knowledge content of Indian manuscripts. The Mission, through its nation-wide network and documentation efforts, is engaged in preserving and rendering accessible India’s knowledge cultures, seeking to link the ideas and visions of the past with the future.

The Mission’s Sseminar Series, ‘Samraksika’, began with a Seminar in February 2005on Ord Traditions and Indigenous Methods of preservation and Conservation of Manuscripts. Papers presented during this Seminar deal with the various regional and local practices employed in the creation and preservation of manuscripts. They provide valuable information on old and indigenous techniques which, over the year, have been relegated to the margins of contemporary conservation practices and deserve a revival. Conducted over a period of three years, the Seminar provided ample opportunity to the participants to share their ideas and experiences, discuss the merits of various alternatives and formulate plans in the area of manuscript conservation for the future.



The National Mission for Manuscripts was established in February 2003 by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Government of India. With India’s manuscript collection estimated at almost five million, the Mission, through nationwide networking of institutions, is in the process of locating, documenting and digitizing this textual heritage of the country. Further, the mission has also been engaged in the conservation and preservation of manuscripts; and rendering accessible their knowledge content through lectures, seminars, school programmes, and further, through bringing out critical editions of significant texts. The Mission has a mandate of creating a first of its kind National Electronic Catalogue of all the manuscripts.

The practice of writing, preserving and worshipping the “word” has been an age long tradition in India. Over centuries the “written word”-the manuscript , has been the vehicle of cultural legacy from the past, on various aspects of India philosophy, culture, politics and science. A tradition that saw vidya as the only real dhana can now legitimately take some pride in the fact that the world has come to recognize knowledge as the key resource for change. In an attempt to reconnect with the Indian knowledge systems, the National Mission for Manuscripts began a Seminar Series called “ Samraksika.” The series seeks to bring to a common platform the theories, methods, experiences and cultures around the manuscript heritage of the country. This is the first volume of the Series, a compilation of the papers presented during the first National Seminar organized by the Mission in February 2005. In collaboration with the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts the Seminar “Oral Traditions and Indigenous Methods of Preservation and Conservation of Manuscripts” presented various aspects of manuscript preservation, and a series of technical sessions to bring together the textual, methodological and practical aspects to the same platform. Along with the Seminar, the Mission had also put together an exhibition to showcase these techniques.

The first of the Samraksika Series, this Seminar was devoted mainly to conservation, a crucial aspect in manuscript studies, and one of the most significant activities of the Mission itself. The Mission has been involved in organizing workshops for imparting conservation training to a vast range of students and professional. Through nation-wide Manuscript Conservation Centres and a larger network of Partner Centres the Mission has a sharp focus conservation methodology and research. Sustained in India through centuries, holders of manuscript collections in India have used various natural organic and inorganic materials for protecting and treating their manuscripts. Due to the advent and widespread availability of synthetic chemical, changes in the social, agrarian and living systems and other factors, the oral traditions, practices and knowledge systems of traditional methods of conservation of manuscripts have fallen into disuse.

To highlight the traditional systems of conservation of manuscripts, the National Mission for Manuscripts has now brought together this collection of papers on indigenous methods, materials and practices for conservation of manuscripts. The Seminar was an effort at bringing together a group of people who shared their experiences and ideas, and formulated a plan of action for the revitalization of that knowledge. It was also an effort to formulate recommendations related to exploring the efficacy of these age old techniques as well as explore oral traditions related to manuscripts. The papers in this volume will reflect various ideas, questions and suggestions which came up in course of the Seminar. They deal with a wide range of themes –predation of writing material, making of inks, the use of plants, herbs and fruits in preservation of manuscripts, the effect of environment on manuscript, and a range of indigenous practices of manuscript conservation.

This book is perhaps the first such attempt of its kind to enhance knowledge relating to the conservation of manuscripts in India through indigenous methods. We hope that it will contribute to the Mission’s attempt in protecting India’s rich and vast manuscript heritage.


The present volume delves into the textual, oral, visual and performing arts traditions of the Mahabharata in its ecumenical, classical versions and regional interpretations, in India and Southeast Asia, and in subaltern reconstructions. It is an exercise in locating the ways in which the Mahabharata has been understood in different places and times, and the manner in which it has endowed diverse community traditions with life, vibration and meaning.

A quest for values underlies and underwrites the discourses, presented in this volume.

In the Purusarthacatustaya or the quadriga of human values, celebrated in the Mahabharata, artha and kama, wealth and pleasure, constitute the empirical pair. It is geared to the spiritual pair of dharma and moksa, discharge of spiritual, moral and social ma, debt, to devas, rsis and Pitrs, Gods, sages and ancestors. It is the road to the summum bonum of moksa or liberation. It is a search for the bliss of communion and not a hedonistic pursuit of sensual pleasure. The reflective consciousness discriminating between sreyas from preyas, characterizes this search, and this is the subject of discourse in Santiparvan (D. Prahladachar).

The wealth gathered by nyaya, legitimate means, is the essence of Rajadharma or royal code of conduct in both Tuladhara Javali samvada in the Mahabharata as well as in the Arthasastra. The pursuit of material wellbeing is not divorced from spiritual wellbeing. Wealth garnered without performing dana, yajna, sadacara, veda or satya, gift, sacrifice, good conduct, knowledge or truth, is sterile. The tantrayukti section of the Arthasastra is concerned with human subsistence in the manusyavatibhumi, human habitat. This is accepted as a fundamental concern in the extended area of the state in the Mahabharata also. (Nrisinha Prasad Bhaduri).

Vira rasa or the heroic spirit is embraced as an attribute of dharma. Victory in war sustains lokayatra, the collective pursuit of sanatana dharma, the traditional ethical order. This is synonymous with the human engagement with the eternal ethic of satya, dama, tapa, sauca, santosa, hri, ksama, arjava, jnana, sama, daya and dhyana, truth, self control, penance, purity, satiety, modesty, forgiveness, energy, wisdom, patience, compassion and meditation. Dharma is not inflexible or monolithic but flexible, adapted to the diverse circumstances of life. (Satkari Mukhopadhyaya)

The teacher of music is, therefore, hailed in the Mahabharata for leading the student to sreyas, moksa, to goodness and liberation. A bhavajita, a master of meanings and expressions, he is completed by the right audience of rasikas, samajikas and uimarsakas, knowledgeable about flavours of emotions, rules of social interaction and discriminative reflection. He is made whole by students fulfilling jati dharma and kulacara; the code of conduct, appropriate to their social niche and lineage. He is not a trader in learning but a saintly person. He rejects superfluous causes, and reconciles contradictory texts. He applies general principles to particular cases, and refers contraries to different situations. He does not discriminate between students of noble birth and quality. He teaches them to concern themselves with what is before them and to act on what they should. (Leela Omcherry)

The Mahabharata tradition is complex and not monolithic in its pursuit of Purusarthas. This is evident from the besetting preoccupation with the element of the tragic in the demonic other, in the performance of Karnamoksam in the Kataikuttu tradition in South India, in a kind of a sacrificial rite, which celebrates the possession of Kama by the demonic quality of Tanasura or Naraka, and condemns him to play a role on the wrong side of dharma, and destroy himself, in full consciousness of his fate. (Hanne M de Bruin).

The pratinayaka, the anti hero, is celebrated in Bhasa's Karnabhara, and also in Kutiyattam and Kathakali theatre in Kerala. The actor as an interpreter and narrator invokes war as the ultimate victor, death as the hero, which brings out love and innocence in the heart, hardened against these. Face to face with death, Duryodhana knows the value of maternal love for the first time. The purva paksa or prologue of the Mahabharata is completed by Harivamsa, which provides trsnaksaya sukha, felicity, born of destruction of desires, as the epilogue. The demonic force is also celebrated in the depiction of Draupadi as a warrior goddess, Virapancali Draupadi is both Devi and Dayan in Muslim regional epics. (K.G.Paulose).

The relentless working of the tragic flaw leads human beings to spurn salvation, refuses to belong to one another, or to God. It compels them to play out their destiny to a bitter and abortive end. The heroic battle between the good and evil, the dissolution of dreams in dust and ashes, provide the titanic scale, complexity and poignancy to the Mahabharata characters. The depiction of Draupadi by Mallika Sarabhai or Shaoli Mitra, or the cinematic and theatrical presentations by B.R. Chopra and Rahi Masoom Raza have, while Peter Brooks's film lacks, this tragic grandeur. The epic is thus read as relevant to the hour, not in terms of a remembered past, a projected future, but of a present, when the best lack all convictions, the worst are full of passionate intensity, and only an anguished cry can be raised about the eternal indifference to the voice of dharma. (Pradip Bhattacharya)

The volume has also described the indexical dislocation, symbolic inversion and subversion, ruptures, discontinuities and pluralities, articulated in vernacular versions of the epic. Female liberty has been associated with tribal matrilineal and liminal patriarchal traditions of Kuru Paricala Janapada outside the metropolitan centres of Madhyadesa. Women are entitled to moksa only after performing the kama samskara, the rites of love. In svayamvara, the women are the price of manly valour, Virya sulka. (Shalini Shah) On the other hand, the Bheel Bharath describes the primal quality of sexual longing and the radiant celebration of sex without any moral taint or tirade in a vivid account of the disgrace of Arjuna and rape of Draupadi by Vasuki Naga, The aggressive courtship of Arjuna by women, the dalliance of Radha with Krsna, disguised as a bangle seller, are described without any prudish criticism. Ganga dominates Santanu Kunti is born of Sakti, aureoled in awesome glory. Draupadi invites all the wives of Arjuna to a feast. The Yaksa in ya~apraSna poses as a jalayogini, a water sorceress testing a man, as virgin water which cannot be taken away without marriage. Indrani chastises roguish sages and chides Indra for not doing so with the searing rebuke, "woman's body is not something to etch their art work on." Uttara is the courageous wife of child courage, Balormmat Abhimanyu, and looks for amarkuppi to save him. The women have their own gurus. They are neither in abject dependence on men nor are they neurotically self critical. (Satya Chaitanya) .

In the Mewati Mahabharata of the tribal pastoral Meo Muslims, the narrator performer, the Mirashi singer, invokes Goddess Bhavani along with Ustad and Allah, for inspiration, so that they can please the pariya audience, and make them raji or agreeable. There is a debate between Guru Gorakh and disciple Augad, the voice respectively of orthodoxy and modernity, about the legitimate role of women, as courtesans or ascetics. Gorakhnath or Puran Bhagat gives fertility to barren Gangadhar and Kunta, makes the garden green and fills the lake with water. (Shail Mayaram).

Draupadi Amma, Gandhari Amma are worshipped by depressed classes in Tamil Nadu. In the Aravan festival, transvestites and hermaphrodites celebrate the birth of Aravan from the loins of Arjuna and snake woman Ulupi. Krsna spends a night with Aravan, assuming feminine form. Am Arasani Malai learns martial arts in a Gurukula, and wins back the Pandyan kingdom in war. She punishes the love smitten Duryodana, and parades him in the street, nailed on a ladder. She is reluctant to submit to Arjuna, who seduces and hypnotizes her in the guise of a Sanyasi, a transvestite, a snake, drugs her with passion and rolls on her "like a mustard on a polished mirror, a bee on a jasmine flower." A variant of the myth are of princess Pavazhakkodi, who is seduced by Arjuna, and of Queen Perarasiyar, daughter of Purushan Devi, conceived from pollen ,carried by southern winds from Sri Lanka. (Vijaya Ramaswamy)

The oppositional, counter cultural, transgressive traditions of folk Mahabharatas, nursed by Naths, Bairagis, Yogis and Satpant Ismailis in the twelfth or thirteenth c., or by the Meo Muslims in the eighteenth c., have also been celebrated in the volume.



  Preface vii
  Acknowledgement xv
  Key to Transliteration xvii
  Introduction 1
  Keynote Address 7
1 Learning and Aphasia: Reflections on India's Oral Traditions 13
2 The Sacred Thread 23
3 An Introduction to the Traditional Practices for the Control of Bio-Deterioration of Manuscripts 35
4 Indigenous Conservation Practices for palm-leaf Manuscripts in India 61
5 Traditional Method of Sancipat Making and Preparation of Ink in Ancient Assam 73
6 Sancipat Tradition: A study in the Majuli Island of Assam 83
7 Scientific Analysis of Traditional Indigenous Methods of Manuscript Preservation 105
8 The Use of Turmeric in the Preservation of Manuscripts 119
9 Traditional Methods of Conservation of Paper Manuscripts: As Gleaned from Two Persian Texts 125
10 Awareness and Practices of Manuscript preservation in Ancient and Medieval India: A Review of Literary Evidence 135
11 Traditional Practices and Palm-leaf Manuscripts in Tamil Nadu 143
12 Manuscript Conservation in the Saivite Mathas of the Erode District of Tamil Nadu 151
13 Indigenous Practives and Materials for Conservation of manuscripts in Libraries 159
14 Palm-leaf Manuscripts and Indigenous Conservation Practices at the Saraswati Mahal Library, Thanjavur 169
15 The Manuscripts of The Tawang Monastery 177
16 Manuscript Conservation Methods Employed at the Rampur Raza Library 185
17 Paper Making at Sanganer: Changes Over Time 193
18 The Jain Approach to the Conservation of Manuscripts 205
19 Kadata of Karnataka: An Introduction 213
20 Indigenous Methods of Conservation of Manuscripts in Manipur 219
21 Decline and Revival of Forgotten Manuscript Traditions 227
  The Contributors 237
  Index 243

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