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“Dashakumaracharita” (Tales of the Ten Princes) is a Saga of Love, Sex and Danger in Ancient India

This ancient secret society by the name of The Nine Unknown Men would be 2000 years old by now. (representative image)Pixabay

– by Vikas Datta

May 8, 2017: For keen readers, the point where texts transform into literature is always interesting. The protagonists are more likely to be fallible humans than deities, the prescriptive and didactic approach wants to show the world as it is, not as it should be. The transition is usually marked by a watershed work and in Sanskrit’s case, it could be this rollicking 7th century AD tale of adventure and romance — without many scruples.

But Dandin’s “Dashakumaracharita” or “Dasa Kumara Charitam” (“Tales of the Ten Princes”) has a few more achievements to its credit.

As per diplomat-turned-classical scholar A.N.D. Haksar, it was the first prose romance where the stress is more on the story and the characters — unlike Bana’s “Kadambari” and Subandhu’s “Vasavadatta”, its prose contemporaries, which concentrate more on stylistic elements to let the story muddle on by itself.

Then in the expanse it covers, it is probably the first to stress the idea of India as one cultural unit, with common social mores and values, despite political divisions. The author, who hailed from Kanchi (in present Tamil Nadu), places only one of the stories at home, and most of the others are across the Indian subcontinent, from what is now Punjab to Odisha, from Uttar Pradesh to Kerala, and from Gujarat to Assam, and even the Indian ocean.

And then for good measure, it pioneered the form of a framing story encompassing a whole series of stories, as well as the “lost and found” trope that can be seen in a wide range of cultural works, stretching from “dastaans” to the films of Manmohan Desai.

But before we deal with what the adventures are all about, we must acquaint ourselves with its creator.

A grammarian and author in the Pallava court in Kanchi in a period spanning AD 650-750, Dandin, of a family of Brahmin scholars of the Kausika gotra, “is one of the best-known writers in all of Asian history”, as per Sanskrit scholar Yigal Bronner.

This, Bronner, an associate professor of Asian Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, says is due to his “Kavyadarsa” (Mirror of Poetry), a treatise on classical Sanskrit poetics, which “travelled widely, was translated and adapted into Kannada, Sinhala, Pali, Tamil, and Tibetan, and may even have exercised on the formation of Recent Style Poetry in China”.

His reputation as a poet is praised in many popular verses, one by an anonymous poet taking him far beyond Kalidasa and others to more exalted company: “Jate jagati valmikau sabdah kavir iti shtitah/vyase jati kavi kavayas ceti dandini (Upon the birth of Valmiki/the word ‘poet’ was coined/With Vyasa it was first used in the dual/And ‘poets’ in the plural, first appeared along with Dandin”.

But he was a man of the world, despite his name (literally means staff bearer and figuratively meaning member of a mendicant/ascetic order), with Haksar noting that he was “obviously a man of vast and variegated learning”. This not only covered sacred and secular literature, and many other subjects like erotics but also had observed first -hand a range of unique situations, as his story of the princes shows.

“Dasa Kumara Charitam” is the second of his three most famous works. The “Dvisandhana”, simultaneously retelling the “Ramayana” and the “Mahabharata” through double entendre words has been lost. Even “Dasa..”, which is divided into a prologue, the narrative proper and an epilogue, is believed to be part of a longer story now lost, but even what is available makes for a comprehensive, readable tale.

As is common in this type, the framing device is perfunctory. King Rajahamsa of Magadha is defeated by a rival and retreats into the forest with his court. There, a son (Rajavahan) is born to him, some of his ministers also have sons while several other infants are brought to him due to a variety of causes (one rescued from a tiger, another handed over by his nurse to be raised properly and so on) ultimately making the 10 princes of the title. They study together and when 16, are despatched to conquer the world.

Rajavahan meets a Brahmin, who lures him into a scheme to conquer the underworld, and the rest also scatter. Ultimately reunited, they tell each other their fantastic adventures, most of which cover amorous dalliances (the orginal has one prince forced to tell his account without any labial words as his lips are still bruised by his paramour’s vigorous kisses) but also war, humbling the proud and haughty and so on.

What makes it interesting is the picture it paints of the extant society in all its colours and its cheerful, no-holds-barred descriptions of sex (the female form especially), crime and conspiracy, and as such appears refreshingly modern in outlook.

If Indians want to cherish their classical heritage, it is works like this which they must know to understand our ancestors were not sanctimonious prudes like their modern, self-serving “champions”. (IANS)

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Mahalaya: Beginning of “Devipaksha” in Bengali Celebration of ‘Durga Puja’

“Mahalaya” is the auspicious occasion that marks the beginning of “Devipaksha” and the ending of “Pitripaksha” and heralds the celebration of Durga Puja

Mahalaya morning in Kolkata. Flickr
  • Mahalaya 2017 Date: 19th september.
  • On Mahalaya, people throng to the holy river Ganges in order to pay homage to their ancestors and forefathers; which is called ‘Torpon’
  • Mahalaya remains incomplete without the magical chanting of the scriptural verses from the ‘Chandi Kavya’ that is broadcasted in All India Radio
  • The magic is induced by the popular Birendra Krishna Bhadra whose voice makes the recitation of the “Chandi Kavya” even more magnificent

Sept 19, 2017: Autumn is the season of the year that sees the Hindus, all geared up to celebrate some of the biggest festivals of India. The festive spirit in the Bengalis all enthused to prepare for the greatest of the festivals, the ‘Durga Puja’.

About Mahalaya:

Mahalaya is the auspicious occasion that marks the beginning of “Devipaksha” and the ending of “Pitripaksha,” and this year it is celebrated on September 19.

Observed exactly a week before the ‘Durga Puja’, Mahalaya is the harbinger of the arrival of Goddess Durga. It is celebrated to invoke the goddess possessing supreme power! The goddess is invited to descend on earth and she is welcomed with devotional songs and holy chants of mantras. On this day, the eye is drawn in the idols of the Goddess by the artisans marking the initiation of “Devipaksha”. Mahalaya arrives and the countdown to the Durga Puja begins!

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The day of Mahalaya bears supreme significance to the Bengalis. The day is immensely important because on this day people throng to the holy river Ganges in order to pay homage to their ancestors and forefathers. Clad in white dhotis, people offer prayers and take dips in the river while praying for their demised dear ones. The ritual is popular as “Torpon”.

An idol-maker in progress of drawing the eye in the idol of the Goddess. Wikipedia

As per Hindu myth, on “Devipaksha”, the Gods and the Goddesses began their preparations to celebrate “Mahamaya” or Goddess Durga, who was brought upon by the trinity- Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheshwara; to annihilate the fierce demon king named Mahishasura. The captivating story of the Goddess defeating the demon got popularized with the goddess being revered as “Durgatinashini” or the one who banishes all the evils and miseries of the world. The victory of the Goddess is celebrated as ‘Durga Puja’.

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Mahalaya remains incomplete without the magical chanting of the scriptural verses from the ‘Chandi Kavya’ that is broadcasted at dawn in All India Radio in the form of a marvelous audio montage enthralling the souls of the Bengalis. Presented with wonderful devotional music, acoustic drama, and classical songs- the program is also translated to Hindi and played for the whole pan-Indian listeners.

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Birendra Krishna Bhadra (1905-1991). Wikipedia

The program is inseparable from Mahalaya and has been going on for over six decades till date. The magic is induced by the popular Birendra Krishna Bhadra whose voice makes the recitation of the “Chandi Kavya” even more magnificent! He has been a legend and the dawn of Mahalaya turns insipid without the reverberating and enchanting voice of the legendary man.

Mahalaya will keep spreading the magic and setting the vigor of the greatest festival of the Bengalis- the Durga Puja, to worship the supreme Goddess, eternally.

                 “Yaa Devi Sarbabhuteshu, Shakti Rupena Sanhsthita,

                     Namastaswai Namastaswai Namastaswai Namo Namaha.”

– by Antara Kumar of NewsGram. Twitter: @ElaanaC