Monday, June 16, 2008

Ah Banabhatta !

I met his ghost once again yesterday . This time on the stage of National School of Drama. He is one person I could not help falling in love with, ever since I read his writings for the first time. His prose is flowery, exaggerated and difficult to sail through-charming nevertheless. He must have been so proud of his knowledge and his wordplay – or may be he realized this is the core competency where no one can beat him, not even the most celebrated poet/dramatist Kalidas. I am talking about Banabhatta , the Sanskrit prose writer, the creator of Kadambari and Harshcharitam , a court poet of Harshavardhan . A writer who defied all norms and established ways of poetry writing in his times and naturally got equal numbers in admirer and critics . Even today most critics find his prose so ornamented and so difficult that they chose to forget him in comparison to other more lucid texts . Bana must have got a similar reaction in his times too. But if his prose is any indication of his personality, he was unaffected with such criticism. He was not writing for people with just enough knowledge of the language. He demands for a knowledgeable audience who can marvel at his ability of figurative speech and his command of language, his clever use of words and his understanding of many arts and crafts. His writings may have complex themes narrated in even more complex language but the descriptions are amazing. He can easily take three to four printed pages in describing one small characteristic of a tree or an Ashram. His similes and metaphors knew no end. He would liberally draw comparisons from all possible subjects and themes. No wonder even one of his severest critic could not help exclaiming his outstanding detailed description of anything usual or unusual by saying-“Banochishtam Jagat sarvam” ( Entire world is just a leftover of Bana’s descriptions).
Savour one specimen of his art Princess Kadambari is sending the following love-message to her lover: ( I am translating it for the benefit of my readers)
"What message can I send to you? 'You are very dear to me', will be tautological. 'I am yours', will be a silly proposition. 'I have deep affection for you', will be the talk of a prostitute. 'Without you I cannot live', will be a contradiction to actuality. 'I am overtaken by Cupid', this will be impertinent. 'I have been forcibly abducted', this will be impudence of a captive girl. 'You must come', this will be expressive of pride, on account of good luck. 'I come of my own accord', this will be fickleness of a woman. 'This slave is not devoted to anybody else', this will be my meanness to report my own devotion. 'I do not send message for fear of refusal', this will be bringing to sense a senseless person. 'I shall suffer terrible pains in case I lead an undesired life', this will be excessive familiarity. 'You will come to know of my love through (my) death', this will be an impossibility".

The Kadambari is one of the best romantic fictions of seventh century . An imaginative romantic story of love, technically in the 'katha' form, the novel transcends the bounds of mortal existence and moves through three lives till the deep and passionate love finally attains its desired fulfilment. In this marvellous texture, men and demigods, earth and regions beyond, the natural and the supernatural, are all happily blended together. Love, curses, transformation of gods into demigods and demigods into men and of men into animals and birds in successive births with the love affair continuing through such successive births, surprise and complex situations and various similar devices are introduced in the construction of the plot.
Being fascinated by his choice of stories, his daring moves of trying new styles and his uncaring text , I wanted to know more about Banabhatta the person. In the beginning of Harshcharitam, which most probably is the first biography of its type, the writer, contrary to the popular trait of modesty and anonymity about one’s own life gives a brief sketch of his family and life. He says that he was born in one of the most pious and famed brahmin family of Vatsyayana clan. His grandfather and father were well known pandits of their times but he turned out to be a black sheep in this family. He was undisciplined , irresponsible and kept bad company of vagabonds. He tried hand in various professions – from running a drama troupe to faking as an astrologer, from gambling to trade and much more . He travelled far and wide with artists and vagrants during his carefree days of homelessness, experienced many good ,bad and ugly faces of life and finally landed in the court of King Harsha.
Except for his own self introduction, not much is available about him from any authentic source. There are, of course, stories in circulation about his uncommon life and ideas but it is difficult to measure truth in those. I was craving for more details about him and by chance came across this book titled ‘Banabhatta Ki Atmakatha’ ( Autobiography of Banabhatta’ written by Hazari Prasad Dwivedi. It was just after my 10th standard and I greedily read the fiction. It was of course a fiction written in an autobiographical way about Banabhatta. Taking hints from his own descriptions of events and things the writer carved out an extraordinary love story. I know for sure that the entire story is not true- as there is a definite element of very modern values in it but it was impossible for me to ignore the moving account of a kidnapped Greek princess being rescued by a powerless and homeless poet Bana . There are many other fantastic aspects of the story except the name of Banabhatta associated with it . It is perhaps one of the best love tales written in Hindi literature.
Yesterday I got a chance to watch the stage adaptation of the book at NSD.I was wondering how will they manage to play the unsaid emotions, the poetry and the complexity of context on stage but the play left me dumbfounded. Creativity definitely is an endless thing. It was a play full of energy, colours, music and fabulous performance...almost magical to me . Theatre definitely ,I am sure, is a far superior medium than TV or Cinema. It is so personal, so spontaneous and so overwhelming. Ever since the performance I have been thinking of Banabhatta again and again. How perilous was life of a poet –an unconventional one, in those days. A life amidst the politics of the day, a life bound by the social customs and a desperate need to earn a livelihood...a thirst to create an audience for his work. How it is for anyone breaking the set norms in any society, in any field?
There is a well-known, interesting statement in Sanskrit, involving a play on words(a very apt tribute to this master of words) : Kādambari rasajnānām āhāropi na rochate. It can be read to mean "While savoring (the contents of) 'Kādambari' -the book, readers do not find interest in (eating) food", or "Oh, Kādambari, while savoring liquor, people do not find interest in (eating) food".
The real person Banabhatta may not be true to his fictionalised version but I would like to believe that Bana was a very romantic, very confident person-arrogant may be, bit snobbish too, but a master of words, commander of language and definitely a very open person who could assimilate the best of many streams in his prose without losing its individuality.


telsto said...

This blog is related to your previous one. Your husband was quite right. It is but natural that if one admires somebody's work he/she would be interested in that person's private life also. Has your new found knowledge of Banbhatta's private life belittled the stature of his novel ?
Will u mind if I point u out that historians do not like to believe ; they believe. And u have a historian streak in u.
Congrats for the excellent piece and the metamorphosis.

Atoorva said...

First, its not a new found knowledge about Bana's life...and second ,this fictionalised version of his life has made him even more interesting...worth resaerching for .