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Sahyadrikhand censored

TENSING RODRIGUES

Gaitonde, writing in 1992, adapted SHK (Sahyadrikhand, a religious text) to the time; he left out of his text the embarrassing stories and accommodated his translation likewise; perhaps following the example of illustrious writers who translated the Samskrt texts into English in yesteryears. For instance Roy rendered the immodest sentences in English edition of Mahabharat into Latin rather than English [see for instance Roy, 1884: The Mahabharat, 314].

As a result, a reader of SHKG (the translation by Gaitonde) remains largely oblivious to the pungency of the strife that ravaged the bramhan communities of  western India at the time. But those censored stories cannot arouse passion anymore, for they will not even be accepted as realistic; they have simply become irrelevant. But those stories are invaluable to get an insight into the war that waged within the bramhan community of Komkan in the early centuries of this millennium.

We are not interested in the conflict per se; not even as a historical record. What we are looking for are the clues that the stories offer into the making of the Komkni bramhan. And for that there cannot be a better starting point than Sahyadrikhand and the associated texts like Sata|prasna|kalpa|latika (a manuscript by one Madhava, supposedly circa 1577 or 1690), Syenavi|jati|dharma|nirnaya (supposedly a verdict of Shivaji’s court, partially published in 1895 and 1913), Komkanakhyan (a manuscript by an anonymous sarasvat, published in 1721) and Dasaprakarana (Lakshman Narayan Keni, 1872). The clues that they provide need to be interpreted in the light of the historical and scientific evidence.

The most obvious censor’s cut that is applied by Gaitonde in SHK is in the chapter 2 of the Uttarardha titled Karastrabramhanotpati; Gaitonde simply presents it in Samskrt, without a translation in Marathi [SHKG, 126; SHKD, 305]. Why did the story have to be kept out of the understanding of the common reader who does not understand Samskrt? As the chapter heading implies, it talks about the origin of the Karastra (karhade) bramhan. And this is what SHK says about them. In response to Skand’s question Mahadev tells that the karhade bramhan hail from a region called Karastr, ten yojan(about 145 kilometres according to Arthasastra) wide, located to the north of the Vedavati River and to the south of its confluence with the Koyna River. (Karastr corresponds roughly to the present Karhad region.) According to SHK this country is evil and populated by harsh, evil, and sinful people. They are extremely corrupt due to sinful actions and are born out of adultery. When the semen of a donkey was mixed with bones, these sinful ones were born. The presiding deity of that region is Matrka Devi, who is extremely cruel and ugly. A bramhan is sacrificed annually in her worship. Born of fathers of the same ‘gotr’, the wretched ones commit the great sin of killing bramhan. One must stay away from them; even upon the slightest contact with them, one must bathe with one’s clothes still on. Even in a different region, one must not smell their air in the circumference of three yojan’. In all this one finds only two substantiated ‘mahapatak’ as per the sastra: that they are born of fathers of the same ‘gotr’, and that they kill abramhan; the rest seem to be plain insults.

In the twentieth chapter, which recounts the creation of Komkan and the settling of the bramhan by Parsuram, SHK alleges that the karhade bramhan are collaborators with the lowly bramhan from the Vindhya Mountains who administer poison, and condemns them as non-Aryans, poison givers and bramhan-killers. Who are these non-Aryan bramhan from the Vindhya Mountains? Could that give us clue for the sarasvat-karhade
hostility?

Mahadev’s response to Skand’s question about the ‘gotr’ of these bramhan could be important; the karhade bramhan, says Mahadev, are of atri, kausika, vatsa, harita, sandilya and mandavya ‘gotr’. Comparing that with the ‘gotr’ of the sarasvat bramhan according to SHK: bhardvaj, kausik, vats, kaundinya, kasyap, vasisth, bhargava, visvamitr, gautam and atri, both the sarasvat and the karhade bramhan belong to the same ethnic stock. Therefore it is reasonable to suppose that the sarasvat-karhade hostility as portrayed in SHK does not lie in ethnic differences.

The history of the karhade bramhan is far from clear; however the extant records, though scarce, suggest that the rivalry between the two was largely on account of priestly posts and privileges. For instance there was a legal dispute between the karhade and sarasvat over the post of sarajyotisi (the head-priest and the chief astrologer) at Sri Santadurga temple in Kavalem, Goa, which went on for nearly two hundred years, from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, until it was settled by the Portuguese government in favour of the sarasvat.

Similarly, in the late eighteenth century, the sarasvat mahajan of the temple of Sri Vijayadurga in Keri, Ponda, Goa engaged in a legal battle with the karhade mahajan of the same temple; this ended with a lawsuit filed under the Portuguese Regime in 1849. Such conflicts have been reported from the rest of coastal Komkan as well [Patil, 2010: Conflict, Identity and Narratives – The Brahman Communities of Western India from the Seventeenth through the Nineteenth Centuries, 76].

These legal battles point to the raison d’être of the texts like SHK at the time; these texts were repeatedly used to support the contentions of the litigating parties before the judicial authorities.

As O’Hanlon puts it: “This impelled Brahman scholars to create authoritative texts of Sanskrit religious law, both to affirm its identity in the face of an advancing ‘other’, and for use when Hindu litigants approached courts under Islamic jurisdiction (SHK was used in courts under Portuguese jurisdiction). The digests were also used as a principal basis by Brahman judicial assemblies.

In an age of social mobility, when questions of ritual entitlement might involve Brahmans from different regions, digests offered comprehensive information covering many contingencies. The assemblies’ judgments frequently described the learned works they had at hand to guide them”[O’Hanlon, 2013: Performance in a World of Paper – Puranic Histories and Social Communication In Early Modern India, in Past and Present, Number 219, 95].

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