Author: Anant Pai
Arvind Mandrekar/Luis M Fernandes
Editor(s): Anant Pai
Publisher: India Book House
ISBN/UPC (if available): 817508et. Al
1. KRISHNA AND NARAKASURA
According to the Bhagawat Purana, Naraksura was born of Mother Earth. Yet in his personality he was a brutish beast.
In South India, the story of Naraka is laced with a woman’s lib edge. As told over there, it is Satyabhama who took up arms against the Asura when, during the battle, Krishna had closed his eyes in momentary exhaustion. The Purana, apparently, has no knowledge of this.
The frequent references to Krishna in our epics and poems, as the enemy of Naraka (Narakari) and even of his deputy Mura (Murari) seem to indicate that the tyrant of Pragjyotishapura was notorious in his times.
The Mahabharata is a gallery of heroes and Karna is the most heroic of them. Fate denied him all his dues. But he fought and achieved all that a man could aspire to have. He was as much a Pandava prince as any of the other five. But he never knew his lineage. At last when he knew it, he could not but disown it.
He was brought up as a commoner and therefore humiliated. Teachers would not teach him. His equals shunned him. He received no honour despite his valour but he never lost heart. Duryodhana, the Kaurava prince, offered him kingship. For this act of kindness, he remained loyal to Duryodhana till the very end.
No traditional Hindu will launch upon a new undertaking without invoking Ganesha, for it is he, as Vighneshwara, prime remover of obstacles, who clears the path to success.
The legends about the birth and exploits of this deity are many; different Puranas giving different versions of the same incidents. Our story, however, is based solely on the Shiva Purana version.
His lineaments are familiar – for song, story and ritual have made them so- elephant head with trunk curled gracefully over a generous pot-belly, four arms bearing his distinctive emblems of godhood and his portly figure mounted on a tiny mouse, his chosen vehicle. There are many interpretations of this unique combination. The most popular is that in the deity are embodied the power and the wisdom of the elephant and the mobility of the agile mouse.
Hiranyaksha was slain by Vishnu in his Boar incarnation. Hiranyakashipu hated Vishnu for having killed his brother. But his son, Prahlad, was an ardent devotee of Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu tried by various methods to sway the mind of his son, but in vain. Ultimately, the evil Hiranyakshipu brought about his own destruction, and the triumph of Prahlad was established by Vishnu.
The story given in this book is based on the Bhagawat Purana and the Vishnu Purana.
Kalidasa, the Sanskrit poet and dramatist, is the author of Vikramorvashiam, the Sanskrit drama from which this book has been adapted. Kalidasa elaborated on the Vedic and post-Vedic versions o the tale of Pururavas and Urvashi.
In Kalidasa’s drama she emerges as a soft, tender woman who even forgets at times her celestial origin and is guilty of human tensions and misgivings. He has introduced characters and situations which add to the credibility of the tale and its universal appeal.
Kalidasa is considered one of the greatest poets and dramatists of India. He was one of the nine gems that adorned the court of king Vikramaditya of Ujjaini. Though many still hold the view that this was the Vikramaditya, whose era begins in 57 B.C., modern research scholars are of the opinion that he was in the court of Chandragupta Vikramaditya of the Gupta dynasty. It is also believed that more than one poet bore this name as an honorary title.
Kalidasa wrote a number of poems of which Raghuvamsha, Kumara-sambhava and Meghaduta are well known.
This story is adapted from the Sanskrit play SWAPNAVASAVADATTA generally attributed to the Sanskrit playwright, Bhasa. It is one of the thirteen Sanskrit dramas discovered in the South by Pandit Ganapati Shastri in 1912.
Udayana, the Vatsa king, had been tricked into captivity by King Pradyoda of Avanti who wanted to learn from him the secret of taming elephants. At Ujjaini, the capital of Avanti, Udayana refused to teach Pradyota unless he paid him the homage due to a guru. But Pradyota’s ego would not permit him to do so. He sent his daughter Vasavadatta instead, telling Udayana that she was one of his hunch-backed relatives. And Vasavadatta was told that Udayana was a leper.
The lessons began with a curtain screening the teacher from the taught. However, one day, when the two saw each other the inevitable happened. They fell in love and with the help of his loyal minister, Yaugandharayana, Udayana eloped with Vasavadatta to Kaushambi. What followed is the story colourfully retold in our Amar Chitra Katha.
Jayadratha is one of the most despicable characters to be found in the Mahabharata. He terrorized the helpless and cowered before the mighty. The encounter between him and Arjuna, the valiant Pandava, described in the Jayadratha-Vadha Parva (a sub-section of the Drona Parva of the Mahabharata), makes absorbing reading.
Jayadratha was responsible for the death of Arjuna’s son, Abhimanyu. Arjuna set out to avenge his son’s death and the cowardly Jayadratha took shelter behind the massive army of Duryodhana.
How Arjuna surmounted the obstacles put in his way in his final encounter with Jayadratha is narrated in this Amar Chitra Katha.
8. Kacha and Devayani
The story of Kacha and Devayani appears in the first book of the eighteen that are contained in the Mahabharata. The central theme of the Mahabharata is the 18-day war between the cousins, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, and their respective allies, on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Devayani, the daughter of Shukracharya, Guru to the Asuras, is an ancestress of the Yadava clan to which Krishna the champion of the Pandavas, belongs.
Kacha is the son of Brihaspati, preceptor to the Devas. The story of Kacha and Devayani centres round the battle for supremacy between the Asuras and the Devas. How Kacha goes to the city of the Asuras and learns the secret craft of Sanjivani (reviving the dead) from Shukracharya and how his sense of duty triumphs over the pleas of the charming Devayani is retold in the following pages.
9. KRISHNA AND THE FALSE VAASUDEVA
The story of Paundraka Vaasudeva is a somewhat bizarre episode from the Bhagawat Purana. Yet the discerning will find it relevant to our own times when image-building has developed into a skilled profession.
There is a moral in this for all of us who live in an age of doubles and stand-ins. If the end of Paundraka was only pathetic, it was because his encounter was with the benign and omniscient Krishna. Those who are not so fortunate may meet with an end which could be grim and tragic.
Nahusha was an ancestor of the Pandavas. He was a descendant of Manu (Manu-lla-Pururavas-Ayus-Nahusha). The first tale in this Chitra Katha is from the Padma Purana and the other two from the Mahabharata.
In The Curse, Nahusha serves as a model of the devout worshipper. When he was humble and devout his power and renown increased, but his subsequent vanity led to his downfall. But, after his fall, he returns to heaven and comes to be counted again among the noblest.
The story of Nahusha and Chyavana has been modified for our young readers.
The Devas and the Asuras or Daityas are step-brothers. They are the progeny of Aditi and Diti, the wives of sage Kashyapa. But the Devas and Asuras are always at war. The Puranas contain innumerable accounts of the battles between them.
The Asuras propitiate the Gods to gain boons and become powerful. But they misuse the power they so gain and meet with their end sometimes at the hands of the very same gods they have propitiated. And the Devas emerge victorious.
Our Chitra Katha on the Tripura episode is based on material drawn from the Shiva and Matsya Puranas.
12. Ayyappan – The Legend of Shabari Malai
A strange and fascinating series of divine events led to the birth of Manikanthan. Manikanthan had a glorious destiny. At the end of a life full of dramatic events, Lord Parashurama himself sculpted and installed an idol of him in the hill temple of Shabari. There, as Lord Ayyappan, he is worshipped as the presiding deity of the whole range.
This lone temple on the top of the Shabari hills, deep in the forests of Kerala, attracts millions of devotees from all over the country every year. They travel through dense forests full of wild animals, over steep hills and in inclement weather to have his Darshan (a glimpse) on Makara Sankranti day (a festival which falls on the fourteenth of January). It is said that the Lord comes down to the Shabari Hills on Makara Sankranti in the form of light to give Darshan to his innumerable devotees and himself lights the temple lamp. Then in a moving and beautiful ritual the pilgrims partake of the Prasad and walk backwards down the eighteen steps, their faces turned towards the Lord shining with devotion and ecstasy.
Aniruddha was the son of Pradyumna and grandson of Krishna. Usha, the daughter of an Asura named Bana, saw him in a dream and became anxious to know if there was such a person. Her favourite companion, Chitralekha, drew the portraits of many gods and men. At last when she drew the portrait of Aniruddha, Usha recognized him. Chitralekha set out to bring Aniruddha to Usha. Then followed a series of adventures and a great battle between the Yadavas and the Asuras.
It is interesting to not that Asuras were not always annihilated but were often absorbed by marriages and alliances.
The story as narrated in this book is based on the Bhagawat Purana.
14. Gandhari - The Mother of the Kaurava Princes
Stories of many great women, their achievements and their sufferings, are recounted in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Sita, Kunti and Draupadi are among the better known. These women went through many painful ordeals, but they had one hope to sustain them-they had noble children.
The case of Gandhari, the mother of the Kauravas is different. She was a good woman who gave birth to wicked sons. All around her there was treachery. Her husband was weak and ambitious; her brother, Shakuni, was an arch-villain; and her sons were full of violence. Among them, she alone stood for virtue and truth-a single lotus in a marshy swamp.
15. Indra and Shibi
Though references of Indra occur in Hindu scriptures from Vedic times to the medieval age, there has been a gradual erosion in his importance. The Vedic Indra, wielder of the thunderbolt, was among the most important deities, but by the Puranic period, he became almost a vassal of the Trimurti-Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
In the Puranas, the heaven over which Indra ruled, is referred to as Indraloka or Devaloka, inhabited by the Devas, the secondary deities. His city is Amaravati; his elephant the four-tusked Airavata; and his horse, Uchchaishravas.
Stories like the ones included in this collection, which depict Indra as a benign and noble deity, are rare. Most of the stories in the Puranas depict Indra as a deity jealous of mortals who perform taps (austerities) or yajnas (fire sacrifices). This was because the position of Indra could be attained (according to Puranic lore) by anyone who performed a hundred Ashwamedha yajnas.
All the stories in this collection are based on the Mahabharata. The one relating to Shibi is similar to that narrated in the Mahabharata, about Ushinara, his father.
The book is a treasure-house of stories of the devotees of Lord Vishnu. Through each story the author seeks to prove that God does not forsake him who has implicit faith. The repeated attempts on the life of innocent Chandrahasa not only failed to materialize but finally boomeranged on the villain himself because of Chandrahasa’s implicit faith in the Lord.
Poet Laxmeesha of the 15th century made Jaimini Bharata popular in Karnataka through his Kannada rendering on which this book is based.
India is a land of countless legends and stories. A few of them have survived the onslaught of time and remained alive over the centuries. One such story is that of Harischandra, the king whose honesty was unmatched.
The story as it has come down to us has many variations from the original narration in the Markandeya Purana. This is the story of a king, who when pitted against forces immensely more powerful than himself faces them with an unflinching faith in integrity.
18. Raja Bhoja
Raja Bhoja, King of Malwa during the 11th Century A D, is well-known to us as the central figure of the Vikramacharita. The original version of this work was probably written during his reign in his honour.
In Vikramacharita Bhoja discovers the throne of Vikramaditya; which is adorned by 32 statues. Each of these statues tells him a story. These statues are Apsaras (fairies) who are under a curse. Only when Bhoja has proved to them that he is as magnanimous, noble and generous as Vikramaditya may he ascend the throne. He does and they are released from the curse.
But the Bhojaprabandha (narrative of Bhoja) by Ballala from which the following episodes have been retold is a romantic tale written in Sanskrit, partly in verse and partly in prose. Ballala was interested not so much in history as in heroics. In his attempt to magnify Bhoja as a patron of art and letters, Ballala has ignored historical facts. The poets, Kalidasa and Bana, who, he says, adorned Bhoja’s court, belonged to much earlier centuries before Bhoja!
19. Tales of Maryada Rama
Maryada Rama, the protagonist of these stories is a folk-hero. He is the hero whose image recurs in the folklore of all communities all over the world. The legends and fables, be they from Constantinople, Ispahan, Peking, Delhi or Tanjavoor, always have a hero who stands out as an example of the triumph of common sense over sophisticated intellect. Even his humour springs form common sense. He becomes a folk-hero because he represents the common man in many ways. He brings to the under-dog, the hope of success.
The folk-hero has a native shrewdness which scores over the powers of establishment like the bureaucracy, the army, the royalty and the judiciary. The stories in this book tell us of Maryada Rama’s success in meting out justice where the law is helpless to do it.
20. SAKSHI GOPAL
Not far from Puri in Orissa stands the temple of Sakshi Gopal. Centuries have gone by but the legend that gave the deity this name is still popular, not only in the states of Orissa and the adjoining Andhra Pradesh but in other parts of our country as well.
Sakshi Gopal was worshipped in a temple in Andhra Pradesh for a long time. Then a king of Orissa brought him to the present site.