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. Among other painted manuscripts mention may be made of 'Geeta Govinda' by Dhananjaya Vipra (1688- A. D.), 'Vidagdha Madhava' by Rupa Goswami and 'Usha Vilasa' by Sisu Sankara Das wrote the 'Mahabharata' in several volumes followed by Jagannath Das' translation of the Bhagavata, the only form of writing the epics and Puranas was on palm leaf. There must have been a flourishing industry, which engaged people in preparing the right type of palm leaf and to write on them with an iron stylus. The unripe leaves were first cut into rectangular shapes and seasoned and made insect-proof. Afterwards, several leaves were either stitched or stringed together. The written folios had to be rubbed with a paste made of bean leaves, charcoal made of burnt coconut shell, till oil and turmeric. Thereafter, the leaves had to be wiped with a piece of soft cloth so that the inscribed portion would be prominently revealed. For paintings, the scribe painter had to use either vegetable or mineral colours. It required highest technical skill and great concentration to draw the illustrations perfectly. A study of the paintings reveals that the figures drawn are highly stylized though usually shown in their profile. The artist drew the figures with the traditional concept of beauty which stipulated certain set pattern for the nose, eyes, neck, hands and the body. It would not be wrong to suggest that these paintings represent the miniature Orissan paintings (S. Pani, op. cit., 6-7).
The word 'Purana' in Sanskrit means 'ancient' and the title 'Purana' denotes ancient lore as handed down by tradition (Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics,) Vol. X, New York, 1867, p. 448). There are eighteen Maha Puranas (or principal Puranas) and eighteen Upa Puranas (subordinate Puranas) constituting a vital portion of the Hindu scriptures. These have been rightly regarded as an extension of Vedic literature. The Maha Puranas comprising about 400, 000 couplets provide an opportunity to go deep into various aspects of Hinduism. Listed as Brahma, Padma, Visnu, Siva, Bhagavata, Naradeya, Markandeya, Agni, Bhavisya, Brahmavaivarta, Linga, Varaha, Skanda, Vamana, Kurma, Matsya, Garuda and Brahmanda their origin and development cannot be accurately traced (Encyclopaedia Britannica,) Vol. 19, USA, 1968, p. 1031). They throw enough light on Hindu mythology, idol worship, festivals and ceremonies and help us to understand the origin and growth of numerous cults. Notwithstanding their legendary character, they are primarily of didactic and liturgical value. Of the eighteen, the majority are sectarian in character devoted to either Visnu or Siva and contain much devotional material. Since they describe the numerous Brahmanical customs and ceremonies and sing praises in favour of gods and goddesses, life (Encyclopaedia Britannica,) Vol. 18, USA, 1968, p. 875).
Originally written in Sanskrit, the Puranas were translated in all vernacular languages to meet the requirement of Hindu devotees. It would be no exaggeration to say that they are a series of popular encyclopaedias dealing with religious, philosophical, historical, social and political aspects of India's glorious cultural heritage. They have exercised a profound influence on the literary production of this vast country. Poets, dramatists, historians and thinkers have discovered in them an inexhaustible fountain and treasure-house of ideas. They are of immense value to Indologists who strive to trace the evolution of Indian culture. Besides, they faithfully project contemporary life and thought while moulding every detail of India's public life over several centuries.
The Bhagavata Purana is considered to be a late work though it is difficult to specify its exact time. Divided into twelve parts it has undergone several editions, transcriptions and revisions leaving the basic theme unaltered. Among the Hindus, the Bhagavata is held in the highest esteem and is one of the most popular Puranas.
The Bhagavata Purana is Vyasadeva's commentary on his own. Vedantasutra. As a matured writer, he wrote this under the supervision of his spiritual mentor Narada. On account of this, the Bhagavata is considered as the most complete and authoritative exposition of Vedic philosophy. Vyasadeva transmitted the contents of the Bhagavata to Sukadeva who subsequently narrated it before Maharaja Pariksita in an assembly of learned sages because shortly before death Pariksita wanted to know what he should chant and what he should not do. Sukadeva answered in great details all the questions put forth to him by Pariksita and the sages. These questions relating to the nature of self, origin of the universe, and spiritual salvation of man, together constituted the essence of the Bhagavata Purana. In course of time, Sutamuni repeated from memory the entire Bhagavata before a group of learned sages who had gathered at Naimisaranya to perform a long sacrifice for the spiritual welfare of the people living in Kali Age. The number of verses he recited was 18, 000. Thus the origin of the Bhagavata can be traced to the questions of Pariksita and answers given by Sukadeva and in their dialogue one comes across many historical episodes along with lengthy philosophical discourses; Suta supplemented it further in the Naimisa forest (Srimad Bhagavatam,) Bhakti Vedanta Book Trust, Los Angeles, 1976. Introduction). In Orissa, the Bhagavata Purana is a sacred possession in every household it was first translated from Sanskrit to Oriya by poet Jagannath Das (1490-1547), a distinguished luminary in the annals of Oriya literature. Born at village Kapileswarpur near Puri, Jagannath Das was an elder contemporary of Sri Chaitanya and a great exponent of Oriya Vaisnavism. He was well verses in the Vedas and Vedangas, epics and Puranas and devoted to the translation of the Sanskrit Bhagavata since 1505. His Oriya Bhagavata is not a literal translation of the Sanskrit work, because one finds in the Oriya version many new themes and expressions. He followed the annotated version of Sridhara Goswami and translated upto the eleventh part. Subsequently, Mahadev Das wrote the twelfth and thirteenth parts (S. N. Dash, History of Oriya Literature,) Vol. I, Oriya (Cuttack, 1978), pp. 455-483).
The Oriya Bhagavata of Jagannath Das is a monumental literary creation of the 15th century. It laid the foundation of devotional Oriya literature enriching Oriya poetry profoundly. Jagannath Das wrote it in a most elegant and lucid diction introducing A new rhythmic couplet with nine syllables-popularly known as 'Navakshara' or Bhagavata metre. He could explain the most difficult philosophical doctrines of Hinduism in a simple language. By writing the famous Purana in the language of the masses, Jagannath could not only set a new path of devotion and virtue, but also accelerated the growth of Oriya language and Bhakti literature. His Bhagavata has proved to be the most popular literary work in Orissa so far, exercising great social and moral influence on the people B.D. Mohanty, History of Oriya Literature, Oriya, Cuttack, 1970, p. 23).
The growth of Bhakti literature centring round the amorous love affairs of Radha and Krsna offered new materials for the poets and painters alike. Inspired by the new wave the painter got fascinated to paint the popular Krsna theme based on the stories of the Bhagavata. The birth of Krsna being taken across the Yamuna by Vasudeva, Krsna's hide and seek game with Yasoda, his adventures against the demons, his romance with Radha and the Gopis have been illustrated in the palm leaf manuscripts with great care and dedication.
Upto the 19th century, palm leaf was used as writing material in Orissa and even now it is being used for preparing horoscopes. All our literary works of the pre-British period are available in the form of palm leaf manuscripts. The Bhagavata of Jagannath Das in several volumes has been carefully preserved by the people for its socio-religious value. Not only in manuscripts can be seen even today. The layout of a typical Orissan village locates residential houses in two parallel rows on either side of the road, the temple and the tank on one end of the village (preferably eastern) and the Bhagavata Tungi on the other end. The villagers use the Bhagavata Tungi simultaneously as a school, club, library, court and church. They take important decisions there, which may concern the village community. In the evenings the Tungi serves as a venue for religious discourse when the Bhagavata is recited and explained (Mayadhar Mansingh, History of Oriya Literature, Oriya, Cuttack, 1981, pp. 33 and 124).
Considering the popularity of the Bhagavata Purana and the great demand for a copy thereof, several writers over the centuries since Jagannath Das have assiduously manufactured copies of the manuscript by transcription. There were professional copyists and painters with inimitable skill and experience writing the Bhagavata and other works for a living. Apart from being a poet, Brajanath Badajena being an excellent painter might have motivated his son Ghanasyam to resort to transcription work as a source of income. The present manuscript is the product of joint collaboration by Brajanath and Ghanasyam. Since Brajanath was earning his livelihood by selling literary compositions, and paintings, this precious illustrated manuscript was probably sold to a wealthy patron who subsequently migrated to Bhilingi. (In fact it was ascertained from late Professor Behera that the family of Parasuram Patra had migrated from) Puri to Bhilingi.) That the paintings were completed by Brajanath on 20 November, 1799 is borne out by a reference to the date in the gives us the names of the writer and the painter, but also an authentic date for the history of Oriya literature.
This is, therefore, a work of great value in the store-house of Oriya palm leaf manuscripts. For scholars working on the character of Oriya Bhagavata, this manuscripts is of immense value. Since Brajanath himself supervised the transcription it is most likely that he must have ensured a truthful and honest work by his son Ghanasyam. Apart from this, as a dated and autographed manuscript one cannot underestimate the profound importance of the manuscript.
I am indebted to the Department of Culture, Government of India, for having placed at our disposal a grant of Rs. 15, 000 as publication subsidy. I am equally grateful to Sri Shakti Malik, Abhinav Publications, the manuscript. The transcription work was entrusted to Dr. Nimai Charan Panda, Research Assistant, P. G. Department of Oriya, and Dr. Prafulla Kumar Nayak, Curator, P.G. Department of History, Sambalpur University, who did their job admirably well within the stipulated time. I am deeply beholden to them. I am also thankful to Sri Nilamani Mishra, Curator of Palm Leaf Manuscript Library, Orissa State Museum, Bhubaneswar, and Dr. P.K. Pati, Vice-Chancellor, Sambalpur University, for their valuable suggestions.