Author: Anant Pai
Arvind Mandrekar/Luis M Fernandes
Editor(s): Anant Pai
Publisher: India Book House
ISBN/UPC (if available): 817508 et. Al
1. FRIENDS AND FOES
The original text of the Panchatantra in Sanskrit was probably written about 200 B C by a great Hindu scholar, Pandit Vishnu Sharma.
The Panchatanta is a rate book, for in no book can one find philosophy, psychology, politics, music, astronomy, human relations, etc. all discussed together in such a simple yet elegant style. This is exactly what Pandit Vishnu Sharma had in mind- to give as much knowledge to the princes in as uncomplicated a manner as possible. And no doubt, not only the princes but also millions of listeners and readers for the last 2,200 years have benefited from his most unique book.
2. The Adventures of Agad Datta
The stories in this Chitra Katha are taken from Vasudeva Hindee (The Travels of Vasudeva), the oldest extant collection of Jain stories. The author of this collection, originally written in Prakrit around 500 BC, is Sanghadas Gani Vachak.
Through the eyes of his hero, Vasudeva, a traveler, Vachak gives us a glimpse of the society of the times.
From the stories included in this book, for instance, we know that the merchants of ancient India were full of enterprise and the spirit of adventure. They explored new territories and established trade links with the outside world.
3. Tales From The Upanishads
In ancient literature, there used to be reference to only three Vedas – Rigveda, Yajurveda and Samaveda. Even Manu has often referred to only these three Vedas. This fourth one, Atharva, according to some scholars, was a later addition.
Each Veda consists of the following parts-
Sanhita (sacred hymns and prayers).
Brahmana-a treastise relating to rituals, prayer and sacrificial ceremonies. This also contains stories about gods and goddesses.
Aranyaka (forest texts) are appendices to the Brahmanas.
The Upanishads represent the final stage of the tradition of the Vedas. Their teachings form the basis for much of the later Hindu philosophy. Most of the stories of the Upanishads revolve around the nature of Reality and the concept of a single supreme being. The equation of the Atman (the self) with the Brahman (ultimate reality) is summed up in the phrase tat tvam asi (that art thou) in the Chhandogya Upanishad.
The stories selected for this volume amply illustrate the fact that the sages in those bygone days were imbued with the spirit of scientific enquiry and there is also implicit acknowledgment of the fact that knowledge is not the monopoly of any select group. For example, in one of the stories, Raikva, a cart driver, is approached with humility by one of the great kings of his time, Janashruti, with the request to impart knowledge about Brahman. The Upanishads are the basis of the shad-darshanas, the six major systems of Hindu philosophy.
4. THE CELESTIAL NECKLACE
This Jain story is based on a version by Muni Mahendrakumar; it was originally written in Hindi. In the course of his study of the Agamas (Jain texts), the Muni discovered a large storehouse of short stories. These stories are simple, and their aim was to make Jain philosophy understandable to the common man. The stories were written, as the Muni says; in different ages by men with widely divergent experience, but all against the backdrop of Jainism. They were written to help the fallen, the misguided, and the downtrodden along the right path.
Most Jain stories are interminable, and remind one of a Chinese box which, when opened, reveals another box, which in turn reveals another, and so on. The story in this AMAR CHITRA KATHA is one of such innumerable stories; the main one deals with King Munipati, a monk who was once a king. In the smaller stories, the thread is sometimes dropped once the moral is told. In the original text, our story ended with the retrieval of Queen Chellana’s necklace from the ascetic’s neck. But we have taken the liberty of completing the story in a manner which we hope is faithful to the original intention.
Mrichchankatikam by Shudraka, from which our story has been adapted, is counted as one among the classic Sanskrit plays.
Mirichchkatikam literally means a clay-cart and refers to the toy cart with which the son of Charudatta, who has been reduced to poverty, plays. The heroine of the play is Vasantasena, a wealthy dancing girl who falls in love with Charudatta. The play depicts a society, which is sufficiently advanced to be not only luxury-loving but corrupt too. But the society is not devoid of good men. For the corrupt king is overthrown. The political theme and secular treatment have given the play contemporary relevance.
It has been translated into English and French. In its English version, it has been successfully produced in the USA.
6. Ratnavali - An Adaptation of King Harsha’s Famous Sanskrit Play
King Harsha, who was the ruler of Kanuaj from A.D. 606 to A.D. 647, was a patron of art and literature. Great Sanskrit poets like Bana Bhatta were at his court. Harsha himself was a poet and playwright. He wrote three Sanskrit plays: Nagananda, Priyadarshika and Ratnavali.
Harsha took the material for his plays from Gunadhya’s Brihatkatha, a treasure house of stories. Ratnavali and Priyadarshika have similar plots and Udayana, the legendary king of Kaushambi, is the hero of both. Harsha was adept at contriving dramatic situations and intrigue. This earned him the title Nipuna Kavi the skilful poet.
7. Vikramaditya’s Throne
The story of Vikramaditya’s Throne is the story of how the marvellous throne belonging to Raja Vikramaditya was destined to be discovered centuries later by Raja Bhoja; and how Raja Bhoja was instrumental in releasing from a curse the 32 Apsaras-turned-statues that supported the throne by listening patiently to each of the 32 stories, on the life and adventures of the magnanimous Vikramaditya, that they narrated.
The frame-story of the throne, the 32 stories as narrated by each, of the statues and the 25 stories told by a Vetala to Vikramaditya in one of his adventures, are all contained in the original Sanskrit work Vikrama Charitra, written some time between the 11th century and the 13the century. The stories gathered a lot of dross as they were retold in various regions in various languages of our country. As a result, today there exist numerous slightly differing versions of the same stories coming from different parts of the country.
8. Ancestors of Rama
Tradition has it that Rama was the ideal king, Gandhiji was only reinforcing it when he named his ideal state Rama-Rajya. Yet the predecessors of Rama, in his dynasty of the Ikshwakus, were as valiant and as benign as Rama himself. This story tells of their deeds.
The heroes of epics have their tragic flaws because epics always tell the whole truth. Like Rama, his ancestors also had flawed characters despite the glory of their personalities.
Inspired by the epic of Valmiki, Kalidasa wrote his classic poem Raghuvamsha. While chronicling the lives of the ancestors of Rama, it noted the decline of the ruling house also.
It is interesting to note that the Puranas trace the genealogy of Rama to the Sun. Some of the illustrious ancestors listed in the genealogy are Manu, Ikshwaku, Harishchandra, Rohita, Sagara, Bhagiratha, Ambarisha and Rituparna. Brihadbala, who fought in the Mahabharata war is said to be a descendant of Rama.
Malavika is based on Mahakavi Kalidasa’s play, Malavikagnimitra. Being the first play of Kalidasa, Malavikagnimitra has more of the young enthusiastic writer’s sense of fun, play and intrigue than the superb imagery and poetic expressions his later works display. Kalidasa was a court poet and the play reveals his firsthand experience of the intrigue and cunning, the jealousy, love and valour that rage behind royal curtains.
Scholars are not quite unanimous about the time and date of Kalidasa. From the 6th Century BC to the 10th Century AD various dates are proved and disproved to be the period Kalidasa lived in. But when it comes to Kalidasa’s writings, there are no two opinions. They are unanimously considered exquisite.
The poet’s more memorable works are Abhijnana Shakuntala, Ritusamhara, Raghuvamsha, Kumarasambhava, Vikramoravashiya and the famous Meghadoota a matchless work of poetry. Kalidasa is respected all over the world as one of the greatest poets and playwrights. Some of his works have been translated into almost all the major languages of the world.
The story of Shakuntala originally appeared in the first book of the Mahabharata where the lineage of the chief characters is detailed. It was later adapted with minor changes into a play by Kalidasa, the great Sanskrit poet and dramatist.
Shakuntala was the daughter of sage Vishwamitra and Menaka, a celestial maiden. When Shakuntala was born she was abandoned by Menaka. Sage Kanva found her and made her his foster daughter. One day King Dushyanta hunting in the forest met and wed her and returned to his palace promising to send for her. Later when Shakuntala goes to his court he denies her. But in the end the truth of her claims is proved and the couple are united forever. And it is claimed that it was their son, Bharat, a direct ancestor of the Pandava and Kaurava princes, who gave our country its name-BHARAT.
11. KAPALA KUNDALA
Bankim Chandra Chatterji wrote Kapala Kundala, his second novel, when he was only twenty-eight years old.
The name Kapala Kundala has been taken the Sanskrit play, Malati-Madhava. In the play, Kapala is the associate of the evil kapalik, Aghora Ghanta, and she is as heinous as her mentor. But, though our heroine was also brought up by an evil kapalik, she is full of human affection and kindness.
While presenting this fascinating romance, certain events and characters have been omitted and the story has been modified to make it suitable for children.
Kannagi, a gem of a housewife, a paragon of chastity, has been immortalized in the pages of Silappadikaaram, the famous Tamil epic of Ilango, the Chera prince-turned-ascetic. It is the story of a clash between three anklets: the anklet of the home, the anklet of the stage and the anklet of the palace.
An ill-fated housewife, Kannagi losses her husband, Kovalan, to the art of a dancer, Madhavi, and finds him again only to lose him to the blind law of a king. Her story is set in the three ancient cities of South India-Poompuhar the Chola capital where she grew up; Madurai the Pandya capital where she fell; and Vanji the Chera capital which placed her on a pedestal.
The epic is a rich record of a great civilization, vivid with descriptions of edifices, shrines, docks, market-places, squares, of laws and rituals, of Natya Shastra (Science of Dance), musicology and musical instruments of the day. Known for its high dramatic content, Silappadikaaram is a shining jewel in Tamil literature.
The memory of Ilango and his immortal classic has recently been perpetuated by the Tamil Nadu Government by erecting at Kaveripattinam, a magnificent seven-storey art gallery Silappadikaaram Kalaikoodam, in ancient Dravidian architectural style. The structure narrates the story in stone carvings.
13. DEVI CHOUDHURANI
Devi Choudhurani and her mentor, Bhavani Pathak, are historical characters who figure in the report of Lieutenant Brennan, quoted by Hunter in his Statistical Account of Bengal.
There is no historical explanation of what made Devi turn to dacoity in the first place and, later, what made her give it up. However, Bankim Chandra’s fertile imagination has provided answers to these puzzling questions in his novel Devi Choudhurani, on which our tale is based.
14. TALES OF DURGA
Goddess Durga is as widely worshipped as Vishnu and Shiva. She is the fierce from of Devi who, as Shakti, is considered the personification of universal energy. According to the Devi Bhagavata the universe is but Her manifestation – and even Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva worship Her. Durga is worshipped in sixty- forms as Ambika, Kali, Chamundi, Devi, Uma, etc.
Durga is worshipped in one form or another in almost every Indian village.
This Amar Chitra Katha is based on the Durga-Saptashati of the Markandeya Purana.
15. The Golden Mongoose and Other Tales from The Mahabharata
Atithidevo bhava, or may your guest be a god to you, says one of the Upanishads. The Golden Mongoose and The Pigeon’s Sacrifice are stories that tell of the extent to which hospitality was carried in the old days.
The Enlightened Butcher speaks of duty and virtue and the inseparable link between the two in one’s quest for truth. All three stories in this Chitra Katha are retold from the Mahabharata.