About The Book
Orissa is a land of pure Hindu culture as evidenced by the concentration of temples there. The collection of hundreds of old palm leaf manuscripts on the epics and the puranas is another pointer to this. In the villages of Orissa even now the institution of 'Bhagavata ghara' has survived to play a vital role, influencing the religious and social life of the rural masses. The recitation of Bhagavata Purana describing the efficacy of devotion in Vaisnavite faith is a very popular event in village life. This prompted Ghanashyam Patnaik in the 18th century to transcribe the great Purana and his illustrious father Brajanath Badajena to prepare the fascinating sketches and drawings illustrating the Puranic episodes. It is a rare contribution to Hindu culture in its subregional manifestation. Apart from the religious contents, the paintings of the manuscript are of rare aesthetic value representing an aspect of Odissi culture, tradition and art.
About the Author
Editor Dr. P.K. Mishra, Ph. D., D. Litt. (b. 1937), Professor and Head, Department of History, Sambalpur University, is the author and co-author of Political History of Orissa (New Delhi, 1979); Madhusudan Das, the Legislature (Ranch, 1980); History of Orissa (Cuttack, 1980); Evolution of Orissa and Her Culture (Calcutta, 1984), and five other books. He edited the Journal of Orissan History (1978-82), Proceedings of the Orissa History Congress (1978-82), New Aspects of History of Orissa (1985-86) and Utkala Gaurava (1986). He served as Secretary of the Orissa History Congress (1978-82) and its President in 1986-87. At present he is engaged in the Survey and Documentation of Monuments in the Upper Mahanadi Valley.
The present Oriya palm leaf manuscript dealing with the eighth and ninth parts of the Bhagavata Purana is a work of the 18th century. It was collected by late Professor Sarat Chandra Behera from Sri Parasuram Patra of village Bhilingi in Srikakulam Taluq. In 1970 he handed over the manuscript to the Sambalpur University Museum for preservation. The manuscript is important for the graphic illustrations accompanying the text and is a rare specimen in the store-house of Oriya palm leaf manuscripts. The paintings and the text are the works of Brajanath Badajena and his son Ghanasyam respectively (Sudhakar Patnaik (ed.), Brajanath Granthavali, Oriya, Bhubaneswar, 1965, Preface).
In the history of Oriya literature, Brajanath Badajena (1730-1799) has earned great esteem for his significant contributions as a poet. He was karana by caste and belonged to the family of Raghu Patnaik who lived at Puri during the reign of Gajapati Pratap Rudra Deva (1497-1540). Raghu was not a well-to-do person and his descendants found it difficult to live in Puri after the death of Pratap Rudra. After 1568 A.D. Orissa entered into a period of great political chaos that was further aggravated by the recurring Muslim invasions from Bengal. In 1751 A. D., when Orissa came under the possession of the Bhonsle of Nagpur, the incursions of the Marathas on the prosperous coastal tract became more frequent and devastating. The Jagannath temple at Puri was the main target of attack and plunder since the Gajapati rule came to an end (B.C. Ray, Orissa under the Marathas, Allahabad, 1960, p. 22-25). Under the circumstances, the descendants of Raghu Patnaik preferred to migrate to Khurda and thence to the inaccessible feudatory State of Dhenkanal for safety. They were given some land grants by the Raja of Dhenkanal and allowed to settled down as court poets (Sudhakar Patnaik, op. cit.).
Brajanath represented the sixth generation of Raghu's family and was the son of Balukeswar Patnaik. As the court poet of Raja Trilochan Mahendra Bahadur (1764-1768) he had received the village Nuagaon for maintenance and the title 'Badajena'. His three uterine brothers-Gopinath, Jagannath and Lokanath-were also renowned poets who lived on the patronage of the Raja (Rames Chandra Dhal (ed.), Brajanath Parikrama, Cuttack, 1972, see the genealogy at page 31).
Brajanath was well versed in Sanskrit, Prakrit, Hindi, Bengali and Telugu besides being a highly talented artist. As the author of several works of prose and poetry (listed below), he has left behind a clear testimony of his linguistic excellence in the above languages. He has exhibited a remarkable historical sense by projecting contemporary history in his writings. His literary works are divided into three categories:
(i) Oriya poems and kavyas:
Amvika vilasa, Anuchinta, Chandimalasri, Dasapoi, Gopivilapa, Kelikalanidhi, Rajananku Chhalokti, Janana O Sangeeta, Rajasabha, Samarataranga and Syamarasotsava.
(ii) Oriya prose:
(iii) Hindi Poem:
(B. Acharya. Short History of Oriya Literature, Oriya, Cuttack, 1979, pp. 172-174)
Though all the above works have been highly acclaimed for their literary merit, true historical incident of his time involving the Raja of Dhenkanal in a defensive war against the Marathas. As an eye-witness to this 20-day was, Brajanath has given a vivid but poetic account of the encounter with elaborate details of Raja's military manoeuvres. The work provides a mine of information relating to the political and diplomatic history of Orissa in the late 19th century (Orissa Historical Research Journal, Vol. II, No. 2, July, 1953, pp. I-12).
We have, thus, reasons to believe that Brajanath was a distinguished litterateur. But now we see another facet of his creative genius as a painter in the present palm leaf manuscript-the Bhagavata. The paintings drawn in 23 leaves supplement the text of the Bhagavata Purana providing a fascinating and picturesque aspect of the highly philosophical work.
As is known from his works, Brajanath did not have sound economic footing and had to live in stark poverty bordering on starvation. The village granted in his favour by the Raja of Dhenkanal was not very rewarding. Besides, when the fountain of royal patronage got dried up, the poet suffered acute distress in life. He has himself described how poverty reduced him to a mere skeleton at the age of sixty forcing him to migrate to Puri where he earned his living as a painter and maintained the family with a very meager income (Rames Chandra Dhal (ed.), op. cit., p. 29).
Brajanath had three sons-Iswar, Ghanasyam and Sadhu Charan. The present manuscript was written by Ghanasyam in 100 leaves. We have no definite information about Ghanasyam's other creative works in Oriya literature except that in the Orissa State 404 and 'Chitau' or Love Letters, Accn. No. OL-80) whose authorship may be attributed to him.
Orissa has an excellent heritage of paintings since the pre-historic period. The rock paintings of Jogimath and Gudahandi (Kalahandi district), Ulafgarh and Vikramkhol (Sambalpur district), Manikmoda and Usakothi (Sundargarh district), and Sitabinji (Keonjhar district) bear testimony of a rich and powerful tradition in this regard. The technique of painting must have developed over centuries before the painters turned over to palm leaf in the 15th and 16th centuries. Though thousands of palm leaf manuscripts have been lost to us due to their perishable nature, yet whatever remains today can establish our legitimate claim in the annals of Indian painting (H. K. Mahtab (ed.), Glimpses of Orissan Art and Culture, Bhubaneswar, 1984, p. 163).
In the pre-British period painted palm leaf manuscripts were quite numerous in Orissa because in the collection of the Orissa State Museum there are now at lest 200 such manuscripts (S. Pani, Illustrated Palm Leaf Manuscripts of Orissa, Bhubaneswar, 1984, pp. 81-86). The earliest painted manuscript in this collection appears to be Jayadeva's 'Geeta Govinda' and Amaruka's Amarusataka' both belonging to the 16th century. A