by J U B V Prasad
Frontier | Autumn Number, Vol. 48, No. 14 – 17, Oct 11 – Nov 7, 2015
Ranganayakamma (76), a well-known Telugu novelist, story writer, essayist and the authoress of An introduction to Marx’s Capital once again waged a literary battle against another classical Indian epic, Mahabharata. A literal translation of the title of Ranganayakamma’s critique of Mahabharata reads: ‘This is, O sir, Mahabharata‘. Her earlier critique of Ramayana titled Ramayana Vishavruk-sham (‘Ramayana the poison tree’) had appeared about forty years ago and has been undergoing reprints till today. An English translation of Ramayana Vishavruksham appeared in 2004.
The book has appeared in the second week of December 2014 and underwent three reprints so far. The writer acknowledges that her ‘introduction’ is based on three previous works. (1) The English prose translation of “The Mahabharata of Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa” by K M GANGULI (original publication 1883-1896), (2) ‘Sri Madandhra Mahabharatam’ (in Telugu) by the Kavitrayam (the poet-trio: Nannaya, Thikkana and Errapraggada). (3) ‘Vyaavahaarikaan-dhra Mahabharatam’ (in Telugu) by Puripanda Appalaswamy.
The writer states that her attempt is only an ‘introduction’ (parichayam) to Mahabharata. While recounting the episodes of Mahabharata she, however, offered several critical comments throughout the book. She also provided 111 footnotes. A look at the contents shows that the writer covered all the 18 parvas (parts) of the Mahabharata. The total number of (short-) stories she retold is 312. In a short preface she explains how she began to work on the ‘introduction’. The book also contains two additional notes: one reviewing the works of the previous scholars and the other enlisting the various aspects of Mahabharata in support of her critical adjectives used in the sub-title of the book. The subtitle in the parenthesis below the main title reads as follows: “A stump that has neither bud nor fruit; neither unripe fruit nor ripe fruit! A pack of delusions, spells, wastes, contradictions, falsehoods, fables and rigmaroles!” The title cover page has a box item with a bird saying thus: “If people want to eat, they must eat gaarelu (black-gram cakes) and if they want to listen, they must listen to ‘Bharatam’—this is a saying (in Telugu). Those who ate black-gram cakes, they must have known that taste. Those who have not read ‘Bharatam’, have its taste too once!”
In the post-script to the book, the writer questions the nature of the wisdom gained by reading Mahabharata and discusses the harmful nature of the ideology portrayed in Mahabharata.
Some of the critical observations the writer made in the introductory and concluding remarks are summarized below:
* As per the conditions portrayed in ‘Ramayana’, Rama’s desire for the kingdom is unjustified. In Mahabharata, in contrast, the Pandavas are justified in seeking the share of their father in the kingdom. The deeds of Pandavas in the form of rituals such as Rajasuya, Ashwamedha that involve the occupation and oppression of other kingdoms, however, are fully unjustified.
* Dharma Raja (Yudhishtira) was as hypocritical king as Rama. Yet, these two characters in the two epics have received respect and reverence over the past several centuries. The people of this country must realize the harmful nature of these epics in their own interest.
+ The social status of women in Mahabharata is utterly pathetic and disgraceful. Women are depicted as the source of all sins. Some of the statements made of the women are insulting and outrageous. Sample the following :
It is impossible to perceive the hypocrisy of a woman. A woman does not derive as much pleasure from food, clothes, or jewelry as compared to the pleasure she derives from the sexual union with a man other than her husband. As soon as a woman sees a man, ‘unfailing signs of desire appear on her body’. She is not sexually Satisfied even with a hundred men. Such are the tributes that the Mahabharata pays to women.
* To depict a weeping woman, the poet narrates that her tears are falling on the ‘deep, plump and graceful’ breasts. In describing the distressed state of a woman, the poet describes her breasts and makes the male-devotees ecstatic.The poet’s description wouldn’t spare even the breasts of goddesses Lakshmi and Parvathi.
* Sati is glorified so high that even goddess Parvathi affirms that the life of a woman must end with the death of her husband. In other words, a woman asserts that a woman must die along with her husband! One of the wives of king Pandu observes Sati! Four wives of Vasudeva practice Sati-Balarama’s wives too perform Sati! The poet extends the practice of Sati even to birds and animals. Neither the original poet, nor the commentators utter a single word of kindness for women opposing this evil practice.
* The poet puts on a show for the women recommending how to weep when the husband is lost: ‘My husband’s hand used to wrap round my waist. His hand used to press smoothly on my navel, my thighs, and my buttocks. It used to press my breasts; it used to untie my sari. Such a hand of my husband is now-burning in the fire!’ This is how a woman ought to weep. Has anyone ever heard a woman weep thus, ‘my husband used to untie my sari’? Why the deranged description? If women, as the poet observed elsewhere, have lust for men other than their husbands, why would a woman lament for the lost husband while other men are available?
* The poets of religious texts are always obsessed with falsity and obscenity. Mahabharata is full of boundless and unbearable obscenity. If a sage sees a woman, he ejaculates. If the woman is at a distance, while he is bathing in a river, he ejaculates in the water and collects the discharged semen in a pot! Does he carry a pot all the time for this purpose? Ejaculates on green grass! Ejaculates in the sacrificial fire! The sages do not wear a loincloth perhaps. They discharge semen everywhere and anywhere! Their semen is very holy! From this other holy people are born – in pots, green grass, sacrificial fires, belly of the fish and so on. The ejaculations happen only to great sages and kings, but not to ordinary guards, soldiers or servants as these people are unholy creatures! The ordinary people don’t have semen at all! Thus, the poet demonstrates arrogance in his writing.
* According to Mahabharata, all human beings are not equal. They are divided into four hierarchical categories: Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vysya and Sudra. Of the four categories, the Sudras are assigned with serving of the other three superior categories.
* The Mahabharat contains innumerable number of tales that demean the Sudras and women by self-degradation of the characters in their own words. Under the tutelage of the poet, the Sudra characters would find it blasphemous to teach Vedic mantras to Sudras; the woman characters would condemn the womenfolk as mean and sinful.
* The king characters of Mahabharata would engage themselves in eternal gambling, adultery, sacrificial rituals and such other (dis-) graceful deeds!
* The reverence of the Brahmins and supplicating them with the gifting of their cows and women is a pious deed and not doing so would be a sin.
* Attempting to change one’s caste-occupation would be a sin. Sudras must remain Sudras by being faithful to their caste occupation.
* Prayers seeking sons, only sons, that too hundreds and thousands of sons. Draupadi has 5 sons. Should she not have a daughter?
* The Mahabharata prescribes ways of life thus: to study for the Brahman, to punish (dandana) for the Kshatriya, to sell for the Vysya and to serve for the Sudra. A Sudra would attain ‘satgati’ (salvation) when he cleans the excreta of a sick sage.
* There are only two goals that Mahabharata sets for a man : kingdom and the heaven!
* Dharma Raja (Yudhishtira), the hero of the epic, is such a hypocrite. On the one hand, he would keep pronouncing, ‘I have no love for the kingdom, I will go to the forest to perform penance’ and on the other hand, he would wage wars on others to expand his kingdom.
* Like Rama in Ramayana who suspected his brother Bharata who earnestly waited for 14 years to surrender the kingdom, Yudhishitra endlessly attempts to find fault with his brothers who blindly and obediently followed him.
* Although Mahabharata contains hundreds of tales, no two of them essentially differ from each other. There is no difference in the values that the tales preach – the four Varna system, the divinity of the kings, luxuries for the men, sacrifices on the part of the women, oppressive rule of the kings, the superstitious beliefs and the male domination and so on.
* The Yudhishtira’s kingdom was plentiful with all the evils: prosperity and poverty, servitude, beggary, prostitution, banditry etc. The kingdom flushed with idlers who wholly depended on preaching scriptures and enjoyed the right to receive gifts in the form of cows and women.
* Many tales of Mahatbharata reflect the conflicts among clans for the appropriation of the natural resources and the means of production such as cows and the land. By the time these conflicts found a place in the literature, one sees that these ideas, values and morals are connected with a social system that has its foundation primarily in land as the means of production.
* The Bhagavad-Gita and Anu-Gita form offshoots of the Mahabharata are abounding in barren philosophy that preaches irrationality and inequalities of all kinds in the name of the ‘karma’ (fate) theory.
* The religious institutions under the auspices of both governmental and non-governmental bodies aim at confining the vast masses in superstitious beliefs. The spiritual leaders (gurus, babas, swamis, sandhvis, acharyas and others) who keep people in ignorance are the spiritual sergeants of the exploitative ruling classes. These spiritual sergeants glorify epics and scriptures such as Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavad -Gita, Anu-Gita and the like.