The present book forms part of the bigger plan of studying the Mahabharata, from a different point of view, the Vol. 1 being Myths from the Mahabharata - Quest for Immortality. The various mythical accounts, concerning awkward-looking Tests and Supranormal Birth, collected and faithfully preserved by the tradition of the suta-s with a belief of iti-ha-asa ('This happened so' or 'This was so'), are studied in this volume, taking into account the mythological patterns and symbols they present.
The chapter on Tests deals with the texts taken of the disciples breathing the 'gurukula' - atmosphere as also the tests taken of the royal personages by the whimsical sages, the chapter not leaving off the point of sexual hospitality asked by the guest as a test of the householder.
The pattern of myths woven round the motif of Supranormal Birth is seen unfolding many an interesting symbol concerning birth-phenomenon, which had remained unearthed up to this time.
Prof. Sadashiv Ambadas Dange, very well known in India and outside India well known in India and outside India for his contribution to the study of Indology and Sanskrit, is considered to be an authority on vedic-Hindu myths, rituals and practices.
He was invited to deliver a course of fifteen lectures on Hindu Myths at the International Institute of Semiotics and Structural Studies, arranged by the central Institute of Languages, Mysore University (Dec. 1984 - Jan. 1985) and five lectures on Indian Myths and Symbols at the National Centre for Performing Arts, Bombay (1998).
His numerous books include - Pastoral Symbolism from the Rgveda (University of Poona, 1970), Vedic Concept of 'Field' and the Divine Fructification (University of Bombay, 1971) Sexual Symbolism from the Vedic Ritual (Ajanta Publication, Delhi 1979), Encyclopaedia of Puranic Beliefs and Practices, Vols. I-V, (Navrang, New Delhi, 1986-90) and Towards Understanding Hindu Myths (1996), Vedic Sacrifices - Early Nature (2 vols., 2002) and Image from Vedic Hymns and Rituals (2002) - these by Aryan Books International, New Delhi.
Prof. Dange had been R.G. Bhandarkar Professor and Head, Dept of Sanskrit, University of Bombay (Mumbai) and twice President of the Vedic Section at the sessions of the all India Oriental Conference (1980 & 1985). He was consultant editor for the Encyclopaedia of Human Ideas on Ultimate Reality and Meaning and Editor for the Indian Section Meaning, Toronto(Canada) for more than a decade.
The honours conferred on him include - Silver Medal from the Asiatic Society of Bombay (1983), 'Special Honour' by the Uttara Pradesh Sanskrit Academy (1989), Felicitation by the State Govt. of Maharashtra (1990) and the Certificate of Honour from the President of India, to mention a few.
The book Legends in the Mahabharata by Dr. Sadashiv A. Dange, has been out of print for pretty long time, after it was notified as ‘rare’ (1980) by Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, which earlier published it in 1969. On the insistence of the interested readers and scholars and of several publishers, giving offer to publish the book, Dr. Dange was urged to turn to the study of the Mahabharata again, though he was occupied with his projects on Vedic studies, which are now published under the titles – (1) Vedic sacrifices-Early Nature, in two volumes and (2) Images from Vedic Hymns and Rituals, both by Aryan Books International, New Delhi, 2000.
The original book Legends in the Mahabharata formed only a part of Dr. Dange’s new plan of the Mahabharata-study with a title Myths from the Mahabharata, Vol. 1: Quest for Immortality, which is published in 1997, by Aryan Books International, New Delhi.
I am presenting here to the scholarly world, myths from the Mahabharata, Vol. 2: Study in Patterns and Symbols. Myth from the Mahabharata, Vol. 3: Probe in Early Dim History and Folklore, is waiting in the wings, to be published shortly after. I have to mention a detail regarding these two volumes. While writing these volumes (nearly 650 pages handwritten) in six months, Dr. Dange, with his undaunted courage, gave a tough fight to his serious illness and finally won the battle when he completed these two volumes, little before he left for the heavenly abode.
My humble self, as his former student and later on his wife, associated with him for nearly fifty years, went through the whole manuscript, checked it thoroughly and prepared the final press-copy. The Introduction “At the Itihasa (Iti-ha-asa) Cave”, based on this Vol., is Writing by me.
As per the wish of Dr. Dange, this volume of the Myths form the Mahabharata is dedicated to his esteemed friend Dr. Shiv Shekher Misra, former Professor and Head, Department of Sanskrit, Lucknow University, as a token of abiding friendship.
I entrusted the publication of this volume to Shiva Vikas Arya (Aryan Books International), who has been publishing our books from 1994. I thank him for bringing out this Volume with elegance and sense of belonging, which are his innate qualities.
My thank are to Mrs. Vidya Joshi, Lecturer in Art, J.J. School of Art, Mumbai, for the Jacket-design with the picture.
Dr. Mrs. Vidya Kamat, who has been a student of Dr. Dange and myself, and has studied for her Ph.D degree under my guidance, has prepared the Index.
The Mahabharata and Ramayana have provided sap and substance for many a later composition and even now these two epics stand as the ‘upajivya’ works. Though both are ancient records of still ancient stories and narratives, they stand somewhat apart from each other, due to their respective texture being different. While the Ram. Is regarded as the ‘adikavya’, the Mb. is reckoned as ‘itihasa’.
The word itihasa in the Vedic context has to be taken as far different in meaning from the word ‘History’, which tends to be a record of facts about important individuals and events. The expression such as tatra itihasam acaksate (Nir-II.24) which states a traditional account, shows that the word itihasa signifies traditional lore. Though not in the RV, the word itihasa occurs in the AV, which mentions purana, gatha and narasamsi along with itihasa, as following the Mahavratya (AV XV .6. 10). This shows the Mahavratya (mentioned as mahadeva) to have become the center of all eulogy, from these compositions. Again it is said that one who knows this becomes the abode of itihasa, purana, gatha-s and narasamsi-s (ibid. 11), bestowing thereby on him status of a great knowledgeable person.
The Sat. Br. prescribes the study of some compositions such as Aunsasana, Vidya, Vakovakya, Itihasa-Purana Narasamsi-s and Gatha-s, along with such intrinsic texts as RV, YV, SV, and AV (Sat. Br. XI .5 .6 .4-8). Even the Brh. Up. echoes the same thought (II. 4. 10; IV .5. 11). The Chan. Up. mentions the Itihasa-Purana, but goes a step further giving the title of Pancamaveda to the Itihasa-Purana (VII. 1 .2, 4). The Gop. Br. (I.10) mentions the Itihasa-veda and Purana-veda separately. Even the Sankh. S .S. (XVI.2.21.27) states the Itihasa and Purana as two separate Veda-s. It is quite patent that the term ‘veda’ here attributed to Itihasa and Purana signifies the traditional lore containing the old accounts of heroic exploits, creation of universe or genealogy of dynasties. Itihasa can be explained as iti-ha-asa (‘This was so’ or ‘This happened so’ or ‘This was the tradition’) and Purana could mean an ancient Text. Though the extant Mahapurana-s are said to follow the five laksana-s and thus contain the old accounts of creation, deluge, genealogy of dynasties, ages and the details such as exploits etc. of the kings or the founders of the dynasties, Purana must have fallen in line with the Itihasa, containing the narration of accounts of olden times. The line of demarcation being so thin between these two types of composition dealing with the traditional lore, they are at times mentioned together as one type. Gatha-s, which were sung (fr. -gai – ‘to sing’), and the Narasamsi-s comprising praise of nara (‘man’ but here the king) also date back to olden times. With these, the Pariplava cycle of legends from the context of the Horse-sacrifice, has to be taken into account. This cycle consisted of mini-cycles, each of ten days and lasted for one year, while the sacrificial horse was away from the sacrificial chamber with the royal entourage. When the Hotr priest had finished his daily ritual, chief of lute-players used to sing the glorious deeds of the past kings, with a view to bring the sacrificer-king in line with the past royal sacrificers. In the Pariplava, on each day of the ‘ten-days’ mini-cycle, a portion of the ‘veda’ (lore) of a particular tribe present there, was recited. The Sat. Br. states that the Hotr priest used to narrate the particular tribal ‘veda’ on the particular day (XIII.4.3.3-15).
The practice of preserving such traditional lore dates back to ancient times. Yaska has made use of some Itihasa-s (traditional accounts) in order to explain some mantra-s in the RV (Nir. II.7). A search for the source of these narratives and compositions has invited efforts of many scholars. Paul Horsch has suggested the origin of the gatha-s in the non-Vedic tradition. Chakrabarti in his study of the Pariplava says that while some Akhyana-s in the Pariplava originated from the theologians, , popular Akhyana-s developed in all probability on the periphery of the sacred literature itself, being included in the Svadhyaya. According to Hariappa the practice of preserving the narrations of various events was prevalent in the period of the RV or even earlier. Dandekar has pointed out that right from the beginning, there have been two traditions - that of the mantra-s and the other preserved by the suta-s. This view-point has a convincing bearing on the problem and it seems that the source of these traditional narratives and compositions was the Vedic secular tradition thriving simultaneously with the Vedic ritual tradition. The secular type of literature comprising various accounts, narratives and ballads, was composed and preserved by the tradition of the suta-s. The suta can be traced back to the AV (111.5.7) and the YV. In the Rajasuya sacrifice (‘Rejuvenation of the King’), suta figures among the officers (ratnin-s), at whose houses the sacrificer-king has to offer oblations (Sat. Br. V.3.1.5). To compose and sing the eulogy of the king and to record important chronicles were the duties assigned to the suta, though commentators of the ritual-treatises have rendered the word suta as charioteer or the guard of the horses. The information from the Mb. and the Purana-s shed proper light on the role of the suta, Lomaharsana, a suta, has a son named Ugrasravas, who is referred to as Sauti. Sauti narrated the Mb. to the sages, including Saunak 1.5-21). The stories compiled in the Mb. were originally narrated by Vyasa and Vaisampayana and the same were securely collected and later on narrated by Sauti (Ugrasravas) to Saunaka and the sages. According to the Agni P. (150.31), the suta compiled the text of the Purana- s due to the favour of Vyasa. This shows that suta committed to memory or maintained the ancient records and narrations and often added to them, thus combining within himself the role of a chronicler, composer and narrator.
This role of Sauti-the suta-who is one of the editors of the Mb. (according to a commonly accepted view) helps us understand the nature of the Mb. itself, which has been a compendium of all knowledge as is seen through various akhyana-s and upakhyana-s. These compositions were collected and faithfully preserved by the tradition of the suta-s, with a belief of iti-ha-asa (‘This happened so ‘or’ This was so’). There are seen in the Mb.’ cycles of legends and myths or at times simple mythical accounts, most of them being of the Iksavaku-s. All these were narrated at the Sarpa-sattra of Janamejaya.
The mythical account of the awkward-looking Tests and the myths of the Supranormal Birth (of individuals) which no doubt pose a problem but are preserved in tradition by the suta-s with faith and conviction, are studied in this volume, taking into consideration the mythological patterns and symbols they present.
To come to the topic of “Tests” – The account of Kaca and Sukra dealt with in Myths from the Mahabharata – Vol.1, suggested (symbolic) death for a fresh birth and the motif was associated with in this immortality. But the accounts of tests dealt with the volume relate that for the favour of a preceptor or sage, the severe test taken by him is successfully gone through by the disciples or the king. Some of these, tales, especially relating to the disciples of olden times, were most probably told to the disciples staying in the preceptor’s hermitage (gurukula, where disciples used to stay for many years for learning different lores). The accounts of the tests occurring in the Mb. remind us of the tests, which were taken by the preceptor, as is recorded in the Upanisads.
It is quite obvious that the narrator of the testes, which are noted in the Mb., had before him the hazardous life of the disciples of the Upanisadic age. The Prasna Up. (I.1) points out how the six disciples viz. Sukesa, Satyakama, Sauryayani, Kausalya, Bhargava, and Kabandhi approached the sage Paippalada, who refrained from imparting to them the highest knowledge and instead advised them to stay with him for one year, keeping faith (in him i. e. the preceptor), observing celibacy and performing penance. Satyakama Jabala is seen staying with the preceptor but is asked by the latter to take away four hundred cows and to return only when they would become one thousand (Chan. Up. IV .4. 1-5). This was really a test of Satyakama Jabala’s perseverance. When after many years, the cows become thousand in number, then only he was instructed by a bull (rsabha), them by Agni, a swan (hamsa) and a cormorant or a diver bird (madgu) (ibid. IV .5-8). When Satyakama Jabala himself becomes the preceptor, while giving permission to other disciples to returns to their home, he does not let his disciple Upakosala Kamalayana to go. On the other hand, he himself goes on journey, keeping Upakosala for serving the fires. Upakosala becomes desperate and decides to end his life by observing fast. But the fires taking pity on him impart knowledge to him (ibid. IV .10-13). Even Indra, the lord of gods and Virocana, the asura, are seen serving Prajapati, as his disciples to acquire highest knowledge from him. Though Virocana is satisfied with the superficial explanation, given at first by Prajapati, obviously to test Indra and Virocana regarding the intensity of their purpose and returns to the asura-s, Indra could not be beguiled this way. Again and again he comes, thus staying for a period of ‘hundred and one’ years (a fabulous number, only to indicate ‘many’), just serving and waiting upon Prajapati (Chan. Up. VIII. 72-12).
Introduction - At the Itihasa (Iti-ha-asa) Cave